Penn starts six straight weekends of Ivy League back-to-backs on Friday against Columbia. The Quakers (3-15, 0-1 Ivy) have won three consecutive games against the Lions (7-7, 1-1 Ivy) and are looking for their first Ivy win of the year.
In this edition of Behind Enemy Lines, I spoke with Columbia senior and men’s basketball radio announcer Sam Tydings (for those wondering, yes, he is my brother). He also writes a biweekly column on Lions sports for the Columbia Spectator. We spoke about Columbia’s recent split of their home and home with Cornell and what it is like to cover Columbia athletics for WKCR.
Columbia beat Villanova on Nov. 20 in Philadelphia. How would you say the Lions have lived up to the buzz that came after that upset?
Tydings: I think that they play a lot better on the road than at home, which is curious, especially for a team in the Ivy League. They’ve won games on the road like at Villanova and a couple of their other non-conference games, but they’ve had a lot of games where they have just failed to execute plays. They lost the Elon game on a three pointer at the buzzer, they lost to Bucknell after they had a big first half lead. Marist, too, was another close game that they lost at the end, and then Cornell on Saturday. It was a huge crowd, and they completely laid an egg in the first half.
What were the expectations for the Lions in Ivy play and how did the loss to Cornell affect them?
Tydings: I think that the expectations were that Harvard and Princeton are the top tier, and that Columbia is a definitive No. 3, and are better than the teams below them. But the loss to Cornell really hurt. They really needed to come out and sweep that opening series. The fact that they didn’t means that if they don’t go 3-1 or 4-0 over the next two weeks, with Princeton on Saturday and Harvard the week after that, then they just are not going to win the league and to be eliminated in the third week of Ivy play would be a huge disappointment. The expectations, at least amongst the coaches and the players, were that they could win the league this year, and they still can. But because they lost to Cornell, it is a real uphill battle.
Last season, Columbia lost a lot of close games in Ivy League play. How have they done in those situations this season, and how do you think they can improve upon them compared to last season?
Tydings: The Villanova game was closer until late in the second half, and they did a great job of putting it away with some defense, with something like 18 straight free throws, but they’ve lost a lot of close games, especially at home. With the Elon game, they had a two point lead and [senior guard] Brian Barbour was at the line for a one and one. Barbour has been close to 90 percent free throw shooting, but he missed, and the rebound was tipped out of bounds to Columbia. So [sophomore guard Steve] Frankoski had a one and one, he missed, and Elon hit a three. Even in the game against Cornell, they went 1-for-5 from the free throw line in the first half. They’ve just had these weird slip-ups at home that have cost them these close games. They’re not really turning the ball over. They’re not really blowing assignments on defense. They just need to execute.
What are your thoughts on Penn this season and the fact that Fran Dougherty is coming back against Columbia?
Tydings: I think the fact that he’s back is going to be a real big boost for them. I talked to [Columbia coach] Kyle Smith earlier and I basically asked him, “Penn’s been really bad this year. Are you worried that this is a trap game?” and he brought up the fact that they’ve played really well recently. They hung with Temple for a while. They didn’t play really well against Princeton, but some of these other non-conference games, they’ve been able to hang around or been able to win, and they aren’t on the big losing streak anymore, obviously. The fact that they’re at home, with the Palestra such a tough place to play for a road team, and Columbia has three or four freshman that will be playing significant minutes in their first time at the Palestra. Based off non-conference play, you would think this would be a blowout for Columbia but I think this is going to be a really close game. I would not be surprised if Penn won.
What is it like to cover a Penn-Princeton back to back weekend for WKCR?
Tydings: I haven’t done it before, so this is a first time thing for me. We are heading to Penn Friday afternoon, driving back that night, and going to Princeton the following day. I know the team is going to Penn and staying overnight somewhere in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area and then heading to Princeton the next day. For us, it is just a lot of driving, but for the players I’m sure it’s a lot easier to stay overnight instead of going back and forth. I was told today that if [Columbia] wins on Friday night, they are going to go and get celebratory cheese steaks, so that will give them a little extra incentive to play well against Penn.
As an announcer also for Columbia football, what is it like covering a game like Harvard’s 69-0 victory over Columbia, where you go up to Harvard and it is a blowout early on?
Tydings: I always say that blowouts are the toughest games to call because it really tests your pregame preparation. You need to know some other things to talk about other than the actual game. I just remember with the game that it was over by halftime, it was something like 42-0, so [WKCR announcer] Nick Bloom and I were just throwing out things like which players on Columbia’s roster we thought should get more playing time, what the game meant for the team going forward. You need to find other storylines to talk about. I mean, it’s difficult and it’s frustrating when you drive four-and-a-half hours each way and you call a football game that’s over 20 minutes in, but everyone who has announced games has had games like that.
What has been your favorite moment covering Columbia athletics over the past four years?
Tydings: You are really making me dig deep for this one. I can give you a couple. My freshman year, I covered a double overtime women’s basketball game in the year where Columbia’s women’s team won the most games in school history. Their star player hurt her knee at the end of regulation, and came back in overtime and hit a big bucket, which was really exciting.
Baseball, my freshman year, the team had a walk-off hit against Penn to clinch home-field advantage for the Ivy League championship series, so I got to be on the call for that one. And for football, the “win or go winless” Saturday at the end of last year, where they beat Brown in double overtime to avoid going 0-10. It was the only overtime game I called as an announcer in football and it was a lot of fun. College overtime is kind of hokey, but it is really fun as an announcer.
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