Columbia had absolutely no answer for Princeton offense on Friday night at Levien Gymnasium and once again the Lions are faced with questions after losing the first game of a home weekend set.
This was just a two-point game at halftime, but the Tigers pushed the lead to as many as 17 points in the second half thanks to small lineup featuring senior Ben Hazel and coasted to a victory. The win pushes Princeton’s record to 3-1 in Ivy League play, while Columbia dropped to 2-3 — which is especially disappointing considering CU has had four of its first five league games at home.
Here are three thoughts from the game.
1. Columbia had no answer for Princeton’s small lineup.
After being tied to Mitch Henderson’s bench during non-conference play Hazel has really delivered during league play.
“Ben has been a really nice sort of lift for us off the bench with just the psychological aspect of playing in the league,” Henderson said.
Hazel scored all 13 of his points during a five minute stretch in the second half as Princeton pushed a 12-point advantage to 17 and sealed the game up. During that time it was forward Chris McComber who was struggling to guard Princeton’s 6’5″ senior guard. McComber couldn’t keep up with Hazel’s foot speed going to the basket and since Columbia’s forwards were extended out to the three-point line, due to the threat of Hans Brase, Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook knocking one down from distance, there was no one there to stop those drives.
Brase also played excellently. He pulled Columbia defenders out of the paint and scored 15 points, including 3-4 from three, and grabbed nine rebounds.
“Brase is a tough cover when they put him at center,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “They just really spread you out. Our defense is predicated on having some rim protection and you can’t with him.
Without that rim protection the Lions’ defense collapsed, allowing 1.27 points per possession, their second worst outing of the season only behind the game at Connecticut.
2. The Lo show can only go so far.
Maodo Lo was spectacular for the Lions in the second half as he single-handedly tried to keep his team in it. Lo finished with 21 points on just 6-11 shooting and 6-8 from the three-point line. After being quite content to shoot threes during the first half, Lo took it more upon himself to drive to the basket and make things happen during the second half. The problem was that no else stepped up to help on the offensive. Kyle Castlin (10 points), Luke Petrasek (8 points, 3 assists) and Kendall Jackson (7 points) all showed brief flashes, but none were a significant threat.
Other typical Lions offensive options were MIA. Cory Osetkowski only played six minutes partly due to the fact that he’d only had one practice the week before and partly due to the fact that getting out to cover Brase is a terrible matchup for the 6’11” senior. Steve Frankoski only played 14 minutes and shot took just three shots. Isaac Cohen seemed frustrated by the lengthier Princeton defenders and took just four shots in 31 minutes.
Add it all up and there just wasn’t any support for Columbia’s star point guard. Lo can only do so much. There was a six minute stretch near the end of the game where no Lion besides Lo scored.
3. Is Princeton a contender?
The loss pretty much ends Columbia’s chances of competing with Harvard and Yale for an Ivy League title. The best case scenario for the Lions now involves running the table on the road, which seems rather unlikely. KenPom pegs Columbia to finish at 6-8 in Ivy League play.
“We’ve got to play better,” Smith said. “After Brown I hoped we were getting better offensively and maybe defensively too. It’s disappointing because our guys care a lot. No question they care and they want to be good, they want to do well. So as a coach, when you get beat, it’s well, these guys are trying you better get them the right game plan.”
Maybe Princeton though is a dark horse in the Ivy race? Last season an extremely talented Tigers team shot themselves in the foot by starting conference play 0-4, including a tough 1-point loss against Columbia at Jadwin. This season Princeton is 3-1, with the Tigers’ only loss coming on a close home game against Harvard. KenPom looks at Princeton’s remaining schedule and pegs Henderson’s club for 8-6, but that might be understating the case. The Tigers struggled shooting the ball early in the season and appear to have found something lately. They’re at .500 for the first time since being 1-1 on Nov. 16 and the confidence is growing.
“Last year at this time we were 0-4, we were upset, down a little bit. Everyone’s still in the hunt. It’s still early,” Brase said.
Henderson isn’t too excited yet, but Princeton seems to sense that there’s at least a chance to make some noise still in Ivy League play.
“It’s incredibly different,” Princeton’s coach said. “I think everybody in this program is pretty happy about where we’re at, but we’re not counting our chickens. We’re not even halfway through. So many tough games and tomorrow night [at Cornell] is going to be another one.”
If Princeton sweeps the New York weekend, the Tigers welcome Brown and Yale to Jadwin next Friday and Saturday and they could be hanging in the race longer than almost anyone expected.