Columbia was in a tough, one-point game against Furman with 6:19 remaining when the team’s season flashed before the Lions’ eyes as preseason All-Ivy League selection Noruwa Agho went down to the ground clutching his left knee.
At that point, as Agho left the court on crutches, the Columbia offense went silent and the Paladins rallied to take the lead by as many as eight points and hold on for a 62-58 victory at Levien Gymnasium on Monday.
Agho was being looked at after the game and his status is currently unknown, but that uncertainty is probably going to cause some sleepless nights for Columbia head coach Kyle Smith.
“We’re losing a big part of everything we do offensively if that’s the case,” said Smith about the possibility of losing Agho for an extended period of time. “It’ll change personnel a little bit, because I think we’re making a commitment to becoming a better team defensively, so there’s a lot of pressure on some guys to score a lot and you can feel that out there a little bit.”
While Agho is noted for taking a lot of shots, and he took 16 in 31 minutes against the Paladins, he often does it because he is the focal point of the Lions’ offense. His tough drives to the basket, like the one he got injured on, are a staple of Columbia’s attack.
One of the players whose shoulders the burden of taking over for Agho on offense will be junior guard Brian Barbour. Against Furman Barbour led the team with 16 points, but he shot 6-16 from the field and committed four turnovers, two which came on charges after Agho left the game.
“I was just trying to take what they gave me,” Barbour said. “I went to the basket. I tried to attack the basket a little bit more. … It was part of the game plan after I saw the way they were playing me.”
Agho’s setback comes an inopportune time, as the Lions are already dealing with a number of injuries. Swingman Steve Frankoski, who averaged 6.5 points per game last season, is out with a broken foot. That plus foul trouble meant that Smith had to go to his freshman early. Alex Rosenberg and Cory Osetkowski both played significant minutes.
“I think Cory will be good,” Smith said. “I think he’s got to get stronger. I really didn’t want to play him that much tonight, but [starting center] Mark [Cisco] couldn’t stay out of foul trouble.”
While Osetkowski sometimes struggled with the Paladins’ veteran front line, he scored seven points and blocked four shots in 27 minutes. Rosenberg showed good court awareness and skill in recording seven points and seven boards of his own in 25 minutes.
“Alex gives us a skillful guy that can play both forward spots,” Smith said while noting that he’s not quite ready to play power forward. Rosenberg’s biggest struggle during the game was fighting through picks on the defense.
Those players, plus others will likely see even more time if Agho is out for any extended period of time. Because if the Lions lose him, they will have lost a big piece of their identity along with Monday’s game.
Notes: Columbia shot 4-17 from three-point range … The Lions grabbed 17 offensive rebounds … Meiko Lyles, who is also injured, played one minute late in the game … Furman took its first lead with 2:05 left in the game … Columbia’s biggest lead was 13, which came with 1:09 to go in the first half
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