NEW YORK – Battle-tested teams are normally the ones standing at the end of the season.
And Vanderbilt passed the latest test on Nov. 13 in New York City.
The Commodores overcame a narrow halftime deficit and took advantage of some frigid shooting on the part of Columbia late in the game on the way to defeating the Lions 74-63 on Schiller Court at Levien Gymnasium.
The win improved Vanderbilt to 3-0 on the season while Columbia lost for the first time in three outings on the young season.
After trailing for much of the first half, thanks to Columbia’s ability force the Commodores into seven turnovers and limit them to just 14 rebounds, Vanderbilt’s Marnelle Garraud connected on a 3-pointer with 50.8 seconds remaining in the half to put her team in front 37-36.
It was the first lead for Vanderbilt since scoring the first points of the game on an easy shot underneath the net by Yaubryon Chambers just 15 seconds into the game that gave the Commodores the early 2-0 lead.
Columbia, one of the surprise teams in all of college basketball last season, got a 3-pointer of its own to retake the lead following Garraud’s basket late in the first half. Nicole Stephens’ 3-pointer from the right corner provided the Lions with a 39-37 halftime cushion.
The second half was a clinic by Vanderbilt newcomer Ciaja Harbison as she scored 11 of her game-high 27 points in the third quarter that helped her team erase a Columbia lead that reached as many as eight points when Kaitlyn Davis drove the lane to put the Lions in front 47-39 with 5:58 remaining in the third quarter.
That’s when Harbison took over.
She connected on a traditional 3-point play a short time later that started a 9-0 run by the Commodores, with all of those points coming from the five-foot, six-inch guard, that put her team back in front 48-47 with 4:02 left to go in the period.
Another 3-pointer from Garraud put her team back in front 56-54 with 1:12 left to go in the quarter.
The Commodores would never trail again in the contest.
A pair of free throws from Harbison with 12.5 seconds left in the period gave Vanderbilt its largest lead of the game to that point as the Commodores led 58-54 heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
It was 10 minutes of pure agony for the Lions.
Columbia would go ice cold from the floor and would go nearly nine minutes without connecting on a shot from the floor as the Lions saw their chance at posting another signature win in program history go by the wayside.
It was not until Hannah Pratt’s 3-pointer from the right corner with 3:36 left in the game ended the scoring drought for the Lions and ended a 14-1 run by the Commodores.
It was Columbia’s first basket from the floor since Pratt’s field goal with 2:31 left in the third period.
Columbia coach Megan Griffith was succinct about her team following the game.
“Thank you, Vanderbilt, for waking us up,” she said. “Delaware did that too and we just ended up winning that game.
“This team is playing and thinking like they are the team they were in March last year,” she added. “We’re not that team yet … we have work to get back to that level.”
Harbison, a graduate transfer from Saint Louis where she started all 106 games she played in while with the Billikens and finished her career there as the program’s second-leading all-time scorer (1,688) points, finished with 27 points in the win over the Lions.
She scored 15 of her points in the second half to spark the Vanderbilt win and finished nine of 13 from the floor and was nine of 12 from the free throw line for the Commodores. She also handed out seven assists in the game.
Harbison was joined in double figures by Garraud (12) and Sacha Washington (11). Garraud is a graduate transfer from Boston College. Demi Washington paced Vanderbilt with six rebounds while Chambers and Washington chipped in with five rebounds each.
Columbia was led in scoring by Kaitlyn Davis’ 24 points and 15 points from Pratt. Davis, along with teammate Jaida Patrick, both notched a game-high nine rebounds.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.