Columbia built an 12-point halftime lead and coasted to an 81-64 victory over Army at Levien Gymnasium on Wednesday night. The win brings the Lions above .500 overall at 5-4 on the season. They’ll be put to the test though on Saturday at Bucknell.
Here are five thoughts from the 17-point victory.
1) Grant Mullins is starting to come into his own – There were a lot of superlatives being thrown around as Mullins scored a career-high 28 points on Wednesday night. It was a “career-game” and a “magnificent performance”, it was also just what Columbia needed from its star sophomore guard. Mullins went 10-14 from the field and 6-10 from beyond the arc. Army consistently went under screens and if you give Mullins that much space he’ll crush you. Mullins’ total line of 28 points, four assists, three steals and three rebounds in 35 minutes might remind some Columbia fans of another star point guard, but let’s judge Mullins on his own merits – which are quite strong right now. An important part of the equation is the development of Maodo Lo. He’s taking on a lot of the ball-handling duties and finished with seven assists and just two turnovers. That playmaking ability frees up Mullins to freelance more on and off the ball.
2) The offense is going to come, slowly – Columbia came into the game with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.01 points per possession. Against Army the Lions scored 1.27 points per possession in 64 mind-numbingly patient possessions. The Lions came in 345th out of 351 teams in average offensive possession length and even the Black Knights couldn’t speed them up. The student section seems to enjoy the constant “10… 9… 8… 7… 6…” countdowns and the Lions players are confident that they’ll hit a shot late in the clock. Mullins, Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Luke Petrasek and others can all break down the defense by themselves. All of those high-ball screens and movement are starting to open space and the pieces are coming together. Columbia gladly took 26 threes on Wednesday, hitting 13. As everyone gets more comfortable in the offense and with each other Columbia should only get better on that side of the ball.
3) Alex Rosenberg is playing with a lot of confidence – To watch Rosenberg at the moment is to see a confident player. He may be coming off the bench, but Rosenberg is one of the toughest match ups that Columbia’s offense can throw at a team. Rosenberg scored 15 points on 4-9 shooting against Army. Occasionally he’ll over penetrate or try to make an extremely difficult pass, but his aggressiveness going to the rim helps open space for the Lions’ shooters. Rosenberg took six free throws against the Black Knights. Right now he’s a high-usage bench weapon that Kyle Smith can deploy during Columbia’s weakest moments.
4) Army helped Columbia out – The Black Knights gave the ball away 10 times in the first half leading to 12 points for the Lions. For the game Columbia finished with 14 points off of 16 Army turnovers. The Lions harassed Army’s starting guards, Dylan Cox and Kyle Wilson, into four turnovers apiece. Even though Columbia is patient, they’re not afraid to attack off opponent mistakes.
5) Army still searching for “the man” and “the defense” – Even though Army lost Ella Ellis, the conventional wisdom was that the Black Knights were going to be a Patriot League contender this season. That certainly hasn’t been the case early in the season as Army dropped to 1-6 with the loss. Ellis was a do-everything player and it’s hard to replace that type of guy. What Zach Spiker is struggling with is finding a consistent scoring threat. Against Columbia it was forward Kevin Ferguson that delivered a strong performance with 19 points on 8-10 shooting. The rest of the team though went 15-34 from the field and only Wilson scored in double-figures. Right now Wilson is trying to take one more of the possession burden. He scored 11 points in 12 possessions, which is alright, but not at the level he was at a year ago playing alongside Ellis.
The defense though is the bigger problem. When Army’s pressure doesn’t bother opponents the half court defense is suspect. Columbia consistently found open dive cuts, open shooters behind screens and got basically whatever it needed in the half court. Army came in forcing a turnover rate of 21.1%, but Columbia lowered that to 18.8% and the offense looked excellent. The defense has to get better if Army wants to compete in the Patriot League.