Columbia’s offense struggled, but maybe its the defense

After another heart-breaking Ivy League loss, 62-58, to Princeton on Saturday night at Levien Gym Columbia sits at 0-2 and in last place in the conference. Even at home it was going to be a tough opening weekend for the Lions, but in two games decided by a total of six points Columbia couldn’t quite find the answers down the stretch.

Columbia’s struggled shooting from three at home this season. The Lions went 3-19 against Penn and 3-11 against Princeton. That follows an overall trend of the team shooting 29.3% from three at Levien, but 38.6% in road and neutral games. Excluding the games against non-Division I opponents, the Lions have had their two top three-point shooting games on the road. Four of the top six have also been in road and neutral environments.

“Threes come and go sometimes,” Brian Barbour said. “It’s just sticking to it and having confidence when you’re shooting it. Sometimes shooters get into little slumps. You can’t let that change your game plan. I know guys like Meiko [Lyles], guys like Steve [Egee] are great shooters and I have every confidence in the world that everyone is going in, even though they might not. You can’t let that defer you from shooting all the time.”

Not surprisingly, the poor shooting has led to an imbalanced record. Columbia is 6-3 away from Levien, but just 5-4 at home. It’s even more surprising because the Lions have actually played an easier schedule at home than on the road. (Which makes sense considering their Ivy League status.)

“I don’t know, we haven’t played great at home all year to be honest,” said head coach Kyle Smith about his team’s shooting woes. “I don’t know why that is. We had good support this weekend and couldn’t capitalize. … It’s a little mind-boggling because we’ve shot it well other places, so we’ve got to figure it out.”

Even though Barbour scored 25 points in both games, Columbia struggled to find secondary scorers. Late in the game teams have figured out that denying Barbour the ball can be an effective strategy to limit the Lions offense. Columbia went over six minutes without scoring a point last in the second half against the Tigers, which allowed Princeton to grab a five-point lead.

“They tried to ice me out a bit,” Barbour said about the Tigers. “I thought they did a good job with it. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Meiko and [Alex] Rosenberg to take that responsibility and make some plays on drives and stuff.”

In his first Ivy weekend as the No. 2 scoring option Lyles struggled a bit. He scored 11 points against Penn as he had to chase Zack Rosen. And maybe all that work on the defensive end the night before, or the defensive effort of T.J. Bray, took Lyles off his game, but he finished 1-9 from the field with four points for Columbia.

It certainly looked like the offense struggled this weekend, but its tough to come to the same conclusion from a review of the tempo-free statistics. The Lions found offense enough to win the games. Scoring in the high 50’s, especially in slower paced games like the past two nights, is usually enough. Against both Penn and Princeton though the Lions failed to get key stops down the stretch. Lyles contained Zack Rosen for 32 minutes against Penn, but the star guard hurt Penn down the stretch. Similarly, Ian Hummer was held in check for most of the game, but Princeton’s star forward hit a few key baskets and free throws down the stretch that proved to be the difference for the TIgers.

Columbia’s two losses this weekend were actually their best offensive performances that resulted in a loss this season. Only forcing six turnovers against Princeton and allowing a small Penn team to 18-28 in the paint is what cost the Lions on this opening weekend. Before Cornell on Saturday the Lions are going to have to figure out how to get back to their non-conference level of defense and the mystery of Levien Gymnasium.

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