In the Ivy League, where at-large postseason bids are pretty hard to come by, the non-conference season is often treated as a warm-up lap, a series of exhibitions dedicated to getting the kinks out and teaching players the system. When January rolls around and the league slate begins, the fourteen-game tournament brings with it a whole new level of intensity. Since that’s the way it is in our corner of the college basketball landscape, there is absolutely nothing more debilitating and frustrating than a serious injury in November or December. For Columbia, that nightmare scenario came to fruition in the late stages of a loss to the Furman Paladins.
Senior All-Ivy selection Noruwa Agho, the league’s leading scorer last year, wrenched his knee during an awkward step on a drive to the hoop. The knee buckled and Agho went down in a heap, clutching his leg as the crowd fell silent. The enormity of the moment was not lost on anyone in Levien Gymnasium, as the boundless hope of a home opener turned to sheer dread at the sight of Agho on the floor. The significance of this game disappeared rather quickly as Agho limped off, supported by a trainer and an assistant. He eventually re-emerged briefly from the locker room, on crutches and in clear discomfort, unable to put any weight on the injured leg.
The Lions huddled after Agho’s injury, trying to will each another to mentally stay in the game and work the ball along the perimeter for a good shot, Blaise Staab later recounted in the post-game press conference. It worked, as the freshmen duo of Rosenberg and Osetkowski pushed the Lions back in front, 49-47, on a sweet dish from the former to the latter underneath. But Columbia couldn’t muster up the strength to get a stop down the stretch, and when they did, they couldn’t grab the rebound. Furman’s interior size and perimeter speed eventually wore down the inexperienced Lions despite a commendable effort from Barbour to put the team on his back. The final score was 62-58, but the focus after the game was on what could be a much more devastating loss.
Now we could point to a number of bright spots through two games for the Lions. We could go ahead and say that their frontcourt exceeded expectations, that their freshmen look ready to contribute, and their star guards have had no trouble getting to the rim. We’ll find out about Agho’s status tomorrow, as it sounded like he’d be getting an MRI in the morning, but after the ugly way Agho went down tonight, there’s no point in sugarcoating it.
Columbia may be in big trouble. Agho had nearly a quarter of the Lions’ points last year, and through two games this year, he’s taken over 32% of the team’s field goal attempts. There is really no way to replace that kind of production, and that is why the Lions are surely sleeping uneasily tonight in the concrete jungle.