“We had a saying: everybody has to guard Lo.”
That’s how Carson Puriefoy described Stony Brook’s game plan against Columbia Tuesday night, when the two sides met in a Morningside Heights rematch.
It is fair to say the Seawolves executed that plan to near perfection, holding Lo to a season-low seven points on just 2-for-9 shooting; his first bucket didn’t fall until less than four minutes remained in the game. Puriefoy shouldered most of the load in stopping the Lions’ star guard, though he was consistently helped with double-teams and other defensive tactics which prohibited Lo from driving or getting clean looks from three.
The Lions fell, 70-61, and dropped to 7-6 on the season, with just a matchup against D-II Central Pennsylvania before Ivy play kicks off with a home-and-home against travel partner Cornell.
The game offered a blueprint to anyone trying to shut down Columbia this year.
With Lo eliminated, the offense has to come from somewhere. The obvious target would be Rookie of the Year favorite Kyle Castlin, who shouldered the scoring load against St. Francis Brooklyn when Lo picked up three ticky-tack fouls in the first half. All season, Castlin’s willingness to get to the cup has brought a unique dimension to the Columbia offense.
But, against Stony Brook, Castlin played barely six minutes in the second half. Why? After the game, Kyle Smith explained that he felt the Lions would need to go big in the frontcourt to match up with Stony Brook center Jameel Warney. With Steve Frankoski stroking it from long range — he netted a team-high 16 points — and Cohen and Lo needing to be on the floor, there just wasn’t any room for Castlin.
This gets to the most central flaw with the Lions right now: When the opponent has a dominant big man, it absolutely kills Columbia. Warney, destined to be America East Player of the Year, piled up a massive 25 points and 13 rebounds on Tuesday night. The Lions aren’t strong enough defensively down low — they don’t deny enough entries into the post, force enough bad shots, or grab enough rebounds — to neutralize the enemy threat. And, in order to compensate, it forces Smith to keep the lineups on the bigger side, which weakens the Lions offensively.
The frontcourt really struggled against Stony Brook. Cory Osetkowski had a fine offensive performance, scoring 14 — but he was badly overmatched by Warney down low on defense. Jeff Coby grabbed six rebounds, but only scored two points and didn’t do enough else on defense. Luke Petrasek was particularly poor, grabbing just one rebound and four points while looking utterly lost on the offensive end. When Petrasek is good, he’s instinctive, trusting his athleticism and making defenders look silly; when he’s not, he gums up the works in the Light Blue offense, killing possessions. And Conor Voss — a fascinating player to watch — remains more the Platonic ideal of a center than an actual center at this point in his development.
That’s not to say this all can’t be overcome. Smith, postgame, mentioned that all three of Petrasek, Osetkowski, and Coby have missed time; with a full ten days of practice ahead, he’s optimistic that area of the team will solidify. And it might also be time for Isaac Cohen to shoulder more of the scoring burden. Cohen, who tends to treat shooting the ball like it’s as dangerous as shooting an actual gun into the air, said that he’s been working on being more aggressive in practice. He made a few good shots against Stony Brook, adding 8 points to his typical 10 boards and 9 assists. Cohen’s aggressiveness will also help keep Lo’s defenders more honest, creating space for the Chairman to work his magic.
“We just gotta get better … Playing harder, being more prepared, we just gotta bring our energy,” said senior captain Frankoski after the game. He’s right. The Lions have had their ups and downs in nonconference — more ups than downs, I’d say — and are in a good position to make a run at the Ivy League title. But they’re not there yet, and being able to match up against the Ivy’s bigs is a challenge they still need to conquer.
If you haven’t already, you should check out Doric Sam’s profile of Isaac Cohen over at One Bid Wonders. It’s a great piece on an increasingly essential player for Columbia.
For those curious, Grant Mullins remains out indefinitely with an injury.
I must pass along what I believe to be the funniest moment of the season so far. The game was sparsely attended, with just 822 in attendance. (No students on campus plus New York City’s temperatures matching those Beyond the Wall will do that to you.) The upshot of this is that you can hear most of what’s happening on the court.
So, midway through the second half, Cohen dribbles the ball past the three-point arc after a Stony Brook miss, at which point he thinks better of pushing the tempo and flips the ball back to a trailing Coby. The surprised Stony Brook defender, Rayshaun McGrew, reacted to this by letting out a mighty “OH SHIT!” Audible across the entire gym, his fleeting expletive elicited mighty peals of laughter — mostly because Cohen’s pass was just about the least “OH SHIT” thing that had happened to that point in the game. (Maybe you had to be there.)
The Lions are next in action on Saturday against Central Penn (7 p.m. in Levien), then have a week off before their Ivy opener at Cornell.