Clutch and Quakers haven’t gone together too often this season, but tonight they found one another, just in time.
From the moment that junior guard Miles Cartwright got the ball in his hands Friday night, the game was clearly on. He had that fire in his eyes that fans saw in Zack Rosen last year and others who have donned the Red and Blue in years past.
Cartwright made his first shot attempt of the night, and it was on his shoulders that the Red and Blue went into the half with a seven-point lead.
But it wasn’t until the end of the game, after the Quakers had allowed the Lions back into the contest, that the ‘C’ in Cartwright started to stand for clutch.
Columbia senior guard Brian Barbour, the Lions’ leading scorer, drained a three with just over a minute remaining to tie the contest up, and the Palestra entered into the Twilight Zone – an episode that fans thought they had already seen all too many times this season.
Were it a repeat of these past failures at the end of games this season, of which Cartwright has had a hand in many, the captain would have pressed too much, gotten off a poor shot, and then the Lions would have taken full advantage.
But this Cartwright was as smart as he was aggressive on this night.
He took the possession slowly, and drained a jumper despite Barbour’s hand in his face.
“He’s grown a lot,” Barbour said of Cartwright. “He’s grown into their best player.”
The best players don’t just drain tough shots though. They also are fearless. They want to be put into the tough situations.
When sophomore guard Cam Crocker had difficulty finding an open player to whom he could inbound the ball, Cartwright called for it despite being dangerously close to being out of bounds himself.
But Crocker found him, and Cartwright got what he wanted – he was the one taking the free throws that would end up sealing the contest.
“Just gotta knock’ em down,” Cartwright said of his 10-for-10 performance from the line. “I try not to put too much pressure on myself.”
Perhaps that’s the best thing to take away from this contest for the Quakers. It wasn’t as though Cartwright came out saying that this one was on his shoulders.
Friday night was the start of a 13-game journey, and Cartwright has been through the Ancient Eight enough times to know instinctively when to turn it on.
Go ahead, criticize him for his inability to come through in the clutch earlier in the season, but Cartwright knew that Friday night was different. It wasn’t a sense of pressure, though. It was necessity.
“I wanted to be aggressive from the start, to try and make plays,” Cartwright said. “When it got down in crunch time, I knew we needed something, whether it was a bucket or a pass, we needed something.”
Coach Allen has reiterated so many times this season that the game is a learning process, and at times, it’s easy to forget, on a team with so many young players, that Cartwright still can develop too.
Friday night, perhaps, was the start of him blossoming into a leader in the sense that he no longer has lean on the title.
At points throughout the season, Cartwright took the last shot because he felt that he had to, that it was expected of him.
Now, Cartwright is taking the ball because he wants the rock in his hands.
If the Quakers have a shot at going on a miracle run through the Ivy League, it will be on Cartwright’s shoulders.
And for the first time all season, Cartwright seems completely at ease with that.
JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.