NEW YORK – In front of 818 rowdy fans at Levien Gymnasium Saturday afternoon, the Columbia women’s basketball team held off a feisty Cornell squad to win its Ivy League opener, 71-64. Three-point shooting proved pivotal for the Lions, hitting 7-of-13 from deep compared to just 2-of-9 for Cornell, with first-year Carolyn Binder accounting for four of the long-range shots.
The Lions last won their conference-opener on Jan. 15, 2010, also defeating Cornell that day, 61-54.
The defenses for both squads excelled through the opening minutes of the action, with Cornell scoring the only field goal of the first five minutes, but two good free throws from Columbia’s Miwa Tachibana kept the game tied at 2-2.
First-year Tori Oliver scored the Lions’ first field goal of the game at the 13:49 mark to begin a 7-1 spurt over the next 59 seconds to give Columbia a 9-3 advantage. The Big Red gathered itself and closed the gap to just two points, 9-7, but the Lions responded swiftly with the sharp-shooting hands of Tachibana. The junior drilled her first trey at the 9:21 mark and followed suit with another on Columbia’s next possession to push the lead back to seven, 17-10, at the under-eight media timeout.
Cornell chipped away at the lead through the remainder of the half, trailing 23-19 after free throws from Allyson DiMagno with three seconds left in the half. Senior Taylor Ward gave the home crowd a reason to cheer before the intermission though, banking in a half-court shot to once again give the Lions a seven-point lead, 26-19.
After a slow shooting start, the Lions finished the half hitting at a 37.5 percent clip, while the Big Red managed just 20.8 percent against Columbia’s stifling defense. The battle of the boards also went Columbia’s way, with the Lions collecting 22 rebounds to Cornell’s 15.
The Big Red offense found a spark to begin the second period with DiMagno recording a pair of lay-ups in the first two minutes. Columbia would not back down though, as Amara Mbionwu hit two from the charity stripe and Carolyn Gallagher knocked down a jumper to make it a nine-point contest in the Lions’ favor, 34-25.
Cornell then put together a 9-2 run over 1:37, cutting the deficit to just two, 36-34, with 14:51 left to play. Binder responded with her second triple of the game and added a free throw the next trip down the floor, making it a five-point cushion for Columbia, but the back-and forth nature of the second half continued with Cornell scoring the next four points on lay-ins from Stephanie Long and DiMagno.
Nia Marshall gave the Big Red its first lead of the second half just past the halfway point, hitting a jumper to give Cornell a 43-42 lead. The Big Red maintained a marginal advantage over the next three minutes, but the rookie Binder continued her hot streak from deep, hitting from the wing on the fastbreak to shift the scoreboard back in Columbia’s favor, 52-51, with 6:39 remaining.
With the team’s trading baskets, Binder’s clutch shooting became imperative to regain the lead, as her fourth trey put the Lions ahead for good, 57-56, with five minutes left on the clock. Classmate Oliver put the Lions ahead by four, converting an and-one play that took the game to the final media timeout.
Cornell would get only as close as two points the rest of the way, with Gallagher, Ward and Oliver each hitting a pair of free throws down the stretch to cap the victory.
Binder finished with a team-high 16 points, while DiMagno scored a game-high 21. Courtney Bradford finished just one point shy of her second straight double-double, posting nine points and 11 boards.
Columbia and Cornell square off next week in Ithaca, N.Y. in the rematch with tip-off slated for 2:30 p.m. in Newman Arena.