One injury too many for Columbia

In the Ivy game I’m sure you all were watching on Friday night, Columbia put out a horribly uninspired performance in the Palestra, falling to Penn 54-46. The Lions scored just nine points in a nightmarish first half, knocking down just three of the 20 shots they put in the air.

Sitting on the bench, watching three after three clang off the rim (or, in Cory Osetkowski’s case, miss everything entirely), Steve Frankoski sat, unusually quiet, with a large brace on his right ankle.

Frankoski’s playing time on this team has fluctuated over the course of the season, but he started to come on down the stretch. The senior picked up his first start in Columbia’s rout of Brown, and scored six points in the first three minutes the next night at Yale.

Then, on an off-ball action, Frankoski got tangled up with Armani Cotton, and went down hard. He did not return against Yale, his ankle wrapped in ice. He started both games the next weekend, his senior weekend, against Dartmouth and Harvard. But he only played four minutes in the second game, getting the quick hook from Kyle Smith when it became apparent that his quickness just wasn’t there.

Without Frankoski, two things become apparent. One is that he played an underappreciated role in the Lions offense. Whenever Steve was out on the floor, defender had to respect his drop-dead shooting, which created space for everyone else. Without him, though, defenders are free to clog the paint, frustrating Columbia’s attempts to work the ball inside.

The other obvious issue is that the Lions have completely run out of depth. It’s now three straight losses for the Lions, and it’s evident that the team’s simply run out of bodies. Against Penn, the Lions were trying to fill Frankoski’s shoes with undersized freshman Nate Hickman, little-used senior Noah Springwater, and inconsistent sophomore Kendall Jackson. Only two healthy players didn’t see action – and one of those, Conor Voss, actually has a broken nose.

Luke Petrasek played, despite another illness which knocked him out last weekend. You couldn’t help but empathize with Petrasek as he played tonight, clearly battling like mad through fatigue and exhaustion, his light blue jersey billowing around his somehow even-slimmer frame. Petrasek never really got it going this year, battling back from a bad illness sooner than expected but not quite getting up to the pace of Ivy play. The poor guy needs some rest, and then he needs to gain 20 to 40 pounds in the offseason. (NOTE: I AM NOT A DIETICIAN.)

It comes down to more than just bodies on the floor, though. Kyle Smith simply doesn’t have any shooters, and that’s killing this team that relies on the three-ball. Between this year and last, the Lions have unexpectedly lost Alex Rosenberg (43 percent from three in 2013-14), Grant Mullins (35 percent), and Meiko Lyles (41 percent). In raw numbers, they represent half of Columbia’s three-point shots made last year. Now, Frankoski is sidelined, a 41 percent shooter so far this year.

To replace them, the Lions have turned to Kyle Castlin, who’s nailed 37 percent of his threes but would prefer to get his points in the paint. More worryingly, Smith has used Chris McComber as his long-range bomber, but McComber’s 30 percent accuracy rate suggests that he may be bombing the wrong country entirely. (He’s just 5-for-19 in the last three games.) And Osetkowski continues to hoist up that shot despite making just five of 32 so far this year, a meager 15 percent.

The Lions are a team designed to shoot threes, and they did hit 13 at Princeton, but they’ve lacked the personnel to shoot them for their Ivy stretch run.

QUICK THOUGHTS: Writing (and podcasting) for IHO has been so fun this year, and getting to sit on press row at the Palestra for a game is one of the many reasons why. What a terrific venue… Although, I think Columbia really struggled with the lighting early on, with an above-average number of airballs as evidence… At halftime, senior members of the Penn spirit groups were honored, including the guy inside the scary Quaker suit. He took his head off to be recognized! I can tell you from personal experience that this is a major mascot faux pas. You’re not supposed to admit that there’s a person inside the costume!! The people inside the Roar-ee the Lion only ever refer to themselves as “Roar-ee’s assistants” – I know, because I was Roar-ee’s assistant for Columbia’s CIT game against Yale last year… Tip-off in Jadwin Gymnasium is set for 6 p.m. tomorrow, assuming my little-used car at home will start after being buried under snow for weeks. (Home here meaning the place where I grew up, in Delaware, not my current address.) I suppose, however, that the game will start at 6 p.m. regardless of whether my car starts or not… Among the attendees tonight was incoming Columbia athletic director Peter Pilling.

 

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