Columbia isn’t the unluckiest team in the country, yet. The Lions, at least according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, are only the third unluckiest. (The distinction actually belongs to their league mates Harvard.)
You could excuse Lions fans though if they feel like they’ve seen this story before. Columbia held tough for 40 minutes against visiting Saint Joseph’s, but Maodo Lo’s final layup fell off the right side of the rim and the Lions fell 80-78.
“I was trying to just drive the ball and draw a foul maybe,” Lo said. “I didn’t get the foul.”
The loss gives Columbia an 0-4 record in games decided by three-points or fewer this season, including at Northwestern and Fairfield and a home loss to Longwood. A few possessions is all that separates the Lions from a sparkling 8-1 record. But those are possessions they’ll never get back.
“Every loss hurts. Being so close of course it’s bitter. But it’s in our hands. We have to play better defense,” Lo said.
Here are three thoughts from the loss.
Defensive problems came back in the second half: During the first half the Lions did a good job shutting down some of the major pieces of Saint Joseph’s offensive attack. NBA prospect DeAndre’ Bembry was 0-6 from the floor and appeared to be forcing the action during the first 20 minutes. Columbia allowed just 0.85 points per possession in the first half.
The story was quite different in the second half. The Hawks offense came alive, shooting 6-15 from three and they also grabbed seven offensive rebounds with 12 assists to four turnovers. Kyle Smith tried switching to a 2-3 zone to slow down Saint Joseph’s, but mostly it just ended up in open looks around the perimeter. Papa Ndao, playing his first game for the Hawks in more than a year due to injury, took advantage, shooting 3-4 from deep. Overall the Lions allowed 52 points in 35 second half possessions.
“We couldn’t get a rebound,” Smith said. “They’re a little tough matchup when they play [Aaron Brown]. He got us on the post. He got us on the offensive glass.”
Brown scored a game-high 26 points as he shot 11-16 from the field. Bembry also came alive in the second half and finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and three blocks. He only made four shots from the field, but they were all big ones that helped SJU stay on top.
“We have to come together and realize the mistake we’ve made through the first few games. And find a way to fix the mistake and defend better in the second half,” Lo said. “We know what is causing us not doing well and just fix it defensively.”
Lo looked like the best player on the court: The Lions’ point guard struggled a bit early in the season, but lately he’s been excellent. He was everywhere during the first half, scoring 14 points with four assists in 18 minutes. He even out-raced Bembry for a loose ball and layup. The second half was a bit more difficult, as he shot just 3-9 from the field. But when Columbia needed baskets Smith went to his star. Overall the senior finished with 21 points, tied with Alex Rosenberg for the team lead. After scoring nine points in last Friday’s loss against Longwood Lo has really started to take on the larger share of the offense that the Lions need for them to truly be successful.
Lukas Meisner got a chance to play quality minutes: Losing Isaac Cohen to a knee injury for about a month could have some unintended positive consequences. Meisner, a 6’8″ freshman forward, is getting some time to develop in big games. He’s become a much bigger part of the rotation since Cohen’s injury and has responded with two excellent outings.
The latest German import gives Columbia some extra height at the forward position and the ability to rebound the basketball. He had seven rebounds in the first half alone, including six on the defensive end. The freshman has also shown a nice touch and hit a big three.
“He’s doing well. He’s defending and rebounding. He hit a big three. That’s a silver lining. You can see he’s going to be a good player for us,” Smith said.
The Lions get right back into action on Sunday against Delaware before heading up to Riverdale on Wednesday to take on a depleted Manhattan squad.