A week after Columbia went to Ithaca and defeated Cornell to open Ivy League play the Big Red came down to Morningside Heights and returned the favor. The Lions offense looks completely lost in a 57-47 loss that dropped Columbia to 1-1 on the young Ivy season.
The loss hurt all the more because Dartmouth upset Harvard earlier in the day. It also left Yale sitting all alone atop the Ivy League standings, at least for now, thanks to the Bulldogs’ victory over Brown.
Cornell held Columbia to 0.87 points per possession on offense by employing the strategy that has now become the common antidote for busting the Lions’ attack: Defend Maodo Lo hard. Despite first half foul trouble the Big Red relentlessly attacked Lo with double teams off the dribble. When David Onuorah was in the game the defense would extend those double teams out as far as the mid-court line. It frustrated Columbia’s star guard. Lo scored 11 points on 4-16 shooting and had four turnovers in 37 minutes. Even when Lo was able to split the double and get to the rim there was more help waiting, typically in the form of Shonn Miller, and Lo shot 3-10 on two-point attempts.
“[I’m] just trying to move the ball when that happens,” Lo said about the double teams. “My teammates make a pass from that and expose the double team basically.”
Lo went 0-2 and scored zero points in 17 minutes in the first meeting between these two teams, so this was a bit of an improvement according to Lions head coach Kyle Smith.
“He played better against their stuff today,” Smith said about his star guard. “With Onuorah out there he’s pretty quick. With a hard double you just have to get it out of there. It’s four on three if we can get it out. He split it a couple times early in that first half, I thought he made a couple drives that would get rewarded.”
Smith would’ve liked to see more of Lo’s drives end in foul shots, but the Lions ended up taking only nine free throw attempts in the entire game, three by Lo, as Cornell’s physical front line defense held tough when Columbia managed to make its way into the paint.
The biggest problem on offense for the Lions though is that besides Isaac Cohen, who scored 13 points on 6-10 shooting, no one else seemed to want to shoot. Columbia shot 19-58 from the field (32.8%) and started the second half with scoreless streak that nearly reached seven minutes. By the end of the game the Lions were passing up good looks trying to get the perfect one.
The Big Red pose a unique challenge due to their athleticism all over the roster. After struggling in the game in Ithaca, Shonn Miller looked like an Ivy League Player of the Year candidate on Saturday. He hit a variety of mid-range jump shots, went to the rim and finished with 18 points on 7-15 shooting. His biggest impact though was on defense, where the 6’7″ senior provided that extra rim protector and rebounder that made the job of whoever was playing the other front court spot much, much easier. Miller blocked four shots and grabbed eight defensive boards during the game.
“He was good. He was really good,” Smith said about Miller. “He grabs every defensive rebound, blocks a lot of shots, and he’s good offensively too. He effective when he’s not scoring and he’s a very good offensive player. He brought it.”
Galal Cancer, who didn’t score a single point in the first matchup, also found space to drive on Saturday. The Lions big men weren’t nearly as effective helping in the post as Cornell’s and it showed as Cancer scored 16 points on 7-12 shooting, including 6-10 on two-point attempts. Smith searched for the right big man for both offense and defense all game, but Cory Osetkowski, Jeff Coby, Luke Petrasek and Chis McComber were a combined 4-18 from the field for 10 points. There’s just no way Columbia is going to win basketball games when its forwards produce so little offense.
It was particularly strange that Columbia was unable to take advantage of their 19 offense rebounds. A lot of those ended up going out of bounds and giving Cornell time to reset its defense, but the Lions managed only 11 second-chance points on 19 offensive rebounds. The second half started with a 1:53 long possession that included four offensive rebounds by ultimately ended in an offensive foul by Lo trying to drive to the basket.
That offensive inefficiency summed up Columbia evening and a lost opportunity for the Lions.