Columbia played excellent defense in the first half, along with good enough defense in the second half, and pulled out a convincing 65-56 victory over NJIT on Saturday night.
Overall the Lions did exactly what they needed to do on a night where the offense was extremely balanced in the first half and then dependent on Maodo Lo in the second, but that’s not a particularly bad strategy either. Lo finished with a team-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes. He was the only Columbia player who finished in double figures.
On the other end of the court the Lions managed to do a good job bottling up the Highlanders’ offense. The two teams run a lot of the same offensive action and head coach Jim Engles was obviously frustrated about how his team responded to the situation—even getting a technical at one point in the second half. NJIT trailed by as many as 20 points with just under 10 minutes remaining before closing the margin a little bit down the stretch. Junior point guard Damon Lynn had his second straight subpar game with 11 points on 4-17 shooting. Lynn failed to score during the first half as the Lions built a 38-25 halftime lead.
Due to Lynn’s struggles—and a lot of credit goes to Grant Mullins for them—the offensive burden once again fell on the shoulders of Ky Howard. The senior from Philadelphia scored 23 points, mostly by getting to the rim—he shot 8-12 on two-point attempts—and also had seven assists. But NJIT players other than Howard really struggled around the rim, finishing just 9-27 (33%) there.
Most of that was thanks to the work of Luke Petrasek in the middle. The 6’10” junior, who also hit the game-winner earlier in the week against Manhattan, showed off his defensive skills with five blocks in 30 minutes. Petrasek has shown good instincts lately as a help defender in Columbia’s matchup man defense and he’s earned additional playing time because of it. Since the loss against Saint Joseph’s Petrasek has played at least 27 minutes in each of the past three games. A bonus is that Petrasek has also been excellent on the offensive end. He scored only nine points against NJIT, but that’s because there were other players who were stepping up to take (and make) shots. I doubt Petrasek will continue to carry a 70% effective field goal percentage throughout the season, but he’s certainly picked his spots well thus far.
Petrasek is also part of Kyle Smith’s commitment to going bigger in hopes of helping the defensive intensity. Petrasek was often joined on the court by freshman Lukas Meisner or John Sica. Sica didn’t do too much in his first significant action of the season, but provides another 6’7” body that can bang in the paint. Meisner continued his recent run of good play with 19 solid minutes, though he did pick up five fouls.
Alex Rosenberg went down with an ankle injury late in the second half. It’s unclear what his status will be for the game against Robert Morris on Monday afternoon, but after that the Lions have two weeks to rest (because of exams and the Christmas holiday) and he should be fine afterward.
Smith said after the game that he’s trying to get the defense to peak as the Lions head into Ivy League play.
“We’ve done some things differently this year where the goal and the narrative has been that we’re going to get a little stingier defensively as we go, and hopefully that’s the case,” Smith said.
If that’s the case then Columbia might have a little more work to do. Expect the Lions to have an especially difficult challenge against Stony Brook on Jan. 2, but that’s really the next chance we’ll get to figure out how good the Lions can be.