When Luke Petrasek jammed home another two points to put Columbia up by 24 points it appeared as if the Lions were going to coast to another Ivy League victory. It wasn’t quite that easy.
Brown chipped away at Columbia’s lead for the entire second half and closed to within three points in the final minute, but the Lions held on for the 83-78 victory at Levien Gymnasium.
“It was an interesting game,” said Lions head coach Jim Engles. “That’s all I can tell you. All the credit to Brown. They really fought back hard and made it a game at the end and I was happy we were able to hold on.”
The victory was huge for Columbia (10-9, 4-2 in Ivy League) in the race for the fourth seed in the Ivy League tournament. The Lions are currently projected to finish 7-7 in Ivy League play according to KenPom, which has them one game ahead of Brown (11-11, 2-4) in the race for that key spot.
Of course the Lions will have to prove that their tough defense and barrage of three-pointers can translate on the road. Columbia hasn’t played away from Levien Gymnasium since Jan. 14. It was expected that this five-game homestand would help the Lions get a leg up on the rest of their middling Ivy brethren, and it has, but now Columbia will be the hunted. The Lions have just two remaining home games (versus Penn and Princeton on Feb. 24 and 25) this season.
Here are three other thoughts about Columbia’s game.
1. The Lions once again had a strong defensive effort in the first half. They held Brown to just 0.70 points per possession in the first 20 minutes. The second half was much more of a struggle. Once again it appears that Jake Killingsworth (14 points) was a big part of the Lions tightening up on the defensive end. The freshman has excellent balance, which helps him adjust to ball movement inside of the zone. There was one play in the first half where as the ball kicked inside Killingsworth spun and headed out to get a hand up in the face of the three-point shooter. The ability to spin around and get out to that man helps Columbia cover the corners in their 2-3 zone.
Another player that helped out defensively was Connor Voss (3 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists). His one block, which was of Brown star Steven Spieth (20 points), doesn’t tell the whole story of how much of a presence the 7’2″ senior was on the court. As the man guarding the high post he created a number of tough shots for Brown players that tried to take the ball inside.
2. But then the fouls came. The foul differential was absolutely huge during the second half, Brown was in the bonus for the final 9:45 of the second half and Lukas Meisner (11 points, 5 rebounds) and Jeff Coby were both in foul trouble for the majority of the half.
“We have to play aggressively, but we have to also walk the line of being more disciplined,” Engles said. “We have to read the game. If you get a quick foul you have to a little more careful.”
After Coby picked up his fifth foul with 5:26 remaining it appeared that Engles and Brown head coach Mike Martin had some things to say to each other. They came into a huddle with the referees and then hugged it out before finishing out the game.
Part of the reason that Columbia is particularly prone to the foul differential is that the Lions aren’t a good free throw shooting team. Brown shot 19-23 and Columbia just 13-20 from the free throw line, despite trying to milk the lead in the final minutes. The Lions also missed the front end of a couple key 1-and-1 opportunities.
The foul trouble—and Patrick Tape being out with an ankle injury—also forced Luke Petrasek to play 37 minutes. He took advantage of the playing time, scoring 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds along with dishing out four assists. He also made a huge play on defense, sliding over to block a shot at the rim that led to a transition three by Quinton Adlesh (10 points).
“I had to play Luke at the four and the five, where I’ve only really been playing him at the four,” Engles said. “So that’s why he played so many minutes. He only played like 22 minutes last night, so we had to ride him. Because we had everyone in foul trouble I couldn’t get him a break.”
3. Nate Hickman excelled as a facilitator. Even though Hickman’s offensive stats might not have been that gaudy— six points on 3-4 shooting along with five assists and just one turnover in 23 minutes—Engles praised the junior guard for his ability to help keep the Columbia offense moving in the first half. Hickman, who was scoring in buckets earlier in the season, took on more of a facilitator role against Brown. He found open shots for his teammates on a regular basis.
“I thought he played terrific. I thought he made some terrific passes. He got the ball moving,” Engles said. “I think that’s a component that if he adds that in I think he becomes a really tough person to guard. Because he can get to the rim whenever he wants, sometimes he needs to stop and be under control. I really though he made some terrific passes and he helped our flow offensively. I was really happy about how he played today.”
This was just the second game this season that Hickman had at least five assists. (The other was the win at Maine.) Considering the scoring abilities of fellow guard Mike Smith (16 points), Hickman taking on more of the playmaking responsibilities could help unlock a new piece of Columbia’s attack.