Three Thoughts: Columbia 70, Wagner 56

After a last-second loss to Stony Brook to start the season Columbia welcomed Wagner to Levien Gymnasium on Tuesday night. The Lions were still without a number of key players due to injury and went almost 10.5 minutes in the second half without a field goal, but managed to pull out a 14-point victory over an inexperienced Wagner squad.

Here are three thoughts from the game:

1) Kyle Castlin is a different player for the Lions: Columbia has never been a team that consistently hits the offensive glass. Last season the Lions finished seventh in offensive rebounding percentage in the Ivy League during conference play. Castlin grabbed four offensive rebounds for the Lions against Wagner, almost half of CU’s nine total offensive boards.

“The hardest thing to do was box him out,” said Wagner freshman Corey Henson, who was often given the responsibility of stopping Castlin. “He really didn’t take that many shots to score. He was a utility guy crashing the offensive boards and things like that.”

Castlin took advantage of those second-chance opportunities to score 18 points on 6-10 shooting in 30 minutes. Castlin has been given a huge opportunity due to the injuries to Grant Mullins and Alex Rosenberg. He struggled against the Seawolves, playing just 14 minutes after two early fouls, but certainly has the potential to be a dynamic player for Columbia and give the Lions an athletic look they’ve lacked on the wing in the past.

Columbia will need more contributions from Isaac Cohen (right) to contend in the Ivy League.

2) The Wagner offense is a work in progress: This team is certainly still adapting to the humongous changes in personnel that occurred during the offseason. Bashir Mason is working to figure out which pieces are going to provide the the most cohesive offense. After scoring 0.71 points per possession against Maryland, the Seahawks managed to score 0.95 points per possession against Columbia. Wagner’s ball movement is still too stagnant at times, but they’re figuring out the different options in the offense. The Seahawks had only one assist as the fell behind by 12 points in the first half. In the second half they had six assists and four turnovers as everyone appeared to settle down.

“Right now we’re not moving the ball great,” Mason said. “We’re not even getting into the end of our offense. Guys are coming off the first initial pass looking to be really aggressive, almost too aggressive. That’s something as we gain some experience that stuff will be worked out.”

One player that looked particularly good on Tuesday night was Henson. The 6’3″ guard from Maryland scored a team-high 15 points on 6-12 shooting in 29 minutes. Henson has a strong mid-range game and wasn’t afraid of the moment against Columbia. He was 6-12 from the field and 1-2 from three. He could be a difficult matchup in the NEC on the wing.

On the other hand, Marcus Burton still seems to be adapting to being the first person on an opponent’s scout. Burton had to deal with Columbia’s best defenders all game and scored just eight points on 3-13 shooting, including 1-6 from three. There were a few moments where the senior guard really seemed to be trying too hard to get the perfect shot.

“I think there’s a little bit of pressing going on with him,” Mason said. “I think he may feel like every shot that he don’t make he feel like he’s letting the entire team down and that’s not the case at all. And much like our freshmen, they’re gaining experience in this non-conference, Marcus has to use this non-conference to figure out not being the 20-minute a game guy who averages double-figures, but not he has to be the starter who is the steady guy for us.”

3) JoJo Cooper upholds a Wagner tradition: Another freshman guard, Cooper had a number of bright spots in 27 minutes against the Lions. He scored four points and had three assists along with constantly tenacious on-ball defense. Cooper was the main reason that Maodo Lo only played 27 minutes himself and scored just 11 points. Cooper drew two offensive fouls on Lo, one of which Lo certainly seemed to disagree with, and was constantly a menace in the press.

“We were told that he’s an aggressive on-ball defender, so he picks up the ball fullcourt, which he did,” Lo said. “He’s a good defender. Pressures the ball. A team needs a player like that. It’s very effective.”

Bonus) Cory Osetkowski and Isaac Cohen were their purest selves in this game, but Columbia needs more: Osetkowski had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists, which is a nice stat line, but if the Lions are going to be near the top of the Ivy League they’ll need even more out of their senior center. Osetkowski needs to be a force in the middle that demands the attention of opposing defenses and six shots, even in 28 minutes is too few. Another player who should probably shoot at least a little is Cohen. The hybrid guard had nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and generally played great defense for 34 minutes, but he was 0-1 from the field. Better teams will take advantage of Cohen’s tendency to not even look towards the basket. Columbia will need him to at least occasionally look for his shot to beat better teams.

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