Annually for the past 11 years, women’s basketball has hosted Education Day, a game played on a weekday morning for the benefit of a few thousand excited school children packing the stands of Levien Gymnasium.
The children and their teachers enjoyed quite the contest, as the game between Columbia (2-7) and Cal State Fullerton (5-4) came down to the last second, with the Titans narrowly topping the Lions 61-58 Wednesday.
After first-year forward Sienna Durr—who finished with 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting from the floor—hit a tough hook shot over the outstretched arms of the Titans’ Daeja Smith, the Lions captured a 53-52 lead. However, that lead would soon disappear, as the Titans then scored four straight points to take a 56-53 lead.
Junior guard Janiya Clemmons corralled an offensive rebound on a missed three from sophomore guard Riley Casey and was fouled. She hit 1-of-2 free throws at the line to bring the Lions within 2 points with 49 seconds to go.
But Cal State Fullerton’s Raina Perez ultimately dealt the Lions a blow they could not overcome, hitting a deep three with 4 seconds remaining on the shot clock to make the score 59-54 with 23 seconds to go in the contest.
First-year guard Madison Hardy, who chipped in 15 points off the bench, had a chance to tie the game after Perez split a pair at the charity stripe, but her three fell short, and the Light Blue suffered its seventh consecutive loss.
“We're struggling to string together back-to-back-to-back quarters, possessions, plays right now,” head coach Megan Griffith, CC ’07, said. “It's tough, this is when you need somebody that's been through this [losing streak], and we don't have anybody who's been through this yet. So, they're learning on the fly.”
Clemmons led the way for the Lions with 17 points—a career high—on 7-for-13 shooting from the floor. However, she accounted for 6 of the team’s 19 turnovers and collected 1 of the team’s 9 assists. The poor assist-to-turnover ratio was an area Clemmons cited needed improvement postgame.
“We didn't have great assists numbers and our assist-to-turnover ratio wasn't great,” Clemmons said. “When we're playing better, we're usually getting stops and running in transition, and we had zero transition points today, so that's also a big reason why we couldn't pull this one out.”
Two-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week and starting point guard Mikayla Markham was held out of the lineup, as Griffith said after the game that she wanted to give Markham some rest heading into Ivy League play. Starting in her place was Casey, who was second on the team in minutes per game last season but has taken a less prominent role thus far this year.
The Lions began the game with a 16-8 spurt in the first quarter, limiting the Titans to just 25 percent shooting from the floor. Coming into the game, the Lions prepared to face a Cal State Fullerton offense led by the three-headed monster of Perez, Jade Vega, and Hannah Thompson who ended up scoring 46 of the team’s 61 points. In the first half, the Light Blue’s defense slowed the trio, but that would not sustain throughout the contest.
“I think in the second half we just didn't follow the scout,” Casey said. “Our coaches did a great job of scouting them, everything they said was accurate, we just didn't do a good job of following it.”
The Lions went into the locker room with a 6-point advantage in hand, after Hardy hit a three and Clemmons followed with a jumper to finish the half on a 5-0 spurt. In the third quarter, Columbia stretched its lead to as many as 8 points, but the Titans managed to cut the lead down to 4 by the end of the quarter.
Unfortunately for the Light Blue, the team ran out of gas at the wrong time, as the offense scored just 13 points in the fourth quarter while allowing 20. With Markham sidelined, the offense appeared discombobulated during a few of the final sequences.
Though she had four timeouts remaining toward the end of the contest, Griffith elected to hold onto them, knowing she would need to need to diagram every play down the stretch to give her team a chance at snapping a six-game skid.
Ultimately, those efforts fell short in the end, and the largest home crowd in program history witnessed another heartbreaking setback.
“The positives are they're all getting a lot of experience, they're young, they still compete, which is really good,” Griffith said. “I think no matter how poor you say you play, or how good Cal State Fullerton played or the adjustments you make, the bottom line is they were still trying to win the game toward the end of the time.
The Lions will head to Fordham for their final contest before a two-week break for final exams. Play from Rose Hill Gymnasium in the Bronx is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 6 p.m.