Facing a Lehigh team that was the preseason Patriot League favorite, Columbia (2-2) turned in what was by far its best performance of the season in an 88-61 win. The Lions imposed their will at their own end of the floor, so much so that C.J. Davis’ three-pointer just to the right of the key felt like a dagger, even though it only gave them a 22-12 lead.
Here’s what we learned from Columbia’s win:
- The defense may not be as much of a cause for concern as people originally thought.
Columbia played man-to-man all the way through against the Mountain Hawks, but with an interesting wrinkle: The Lions largely utilized a smaller lineup and switched assignments on and off the ball at a tremendous rate, giving off the illusory appearance of a matchup zone.
“[It was] a little bit of an adjustment to the officiating, the way games are being played across the country,” coach Kyle Smith said. “It’s very quick-whistled. You’ve gotta work hard to keep people in front of you.
“It’s hard to do.”
Zone or no zone, it worked. At one point in the first half, Lehigh went 8:20 without making a shot from the field. Columbia forced 14 turnovers throughout the game, while guard Maodo Lo had four steals in the first half alone. Lehigh was no slouch offensively, having entered Sunday’s contest 130th in adjusted offense, per KenPom.
The Lions may not necessarily crack the KenPom top 100 in adjusted defense this year, but they don’t need to be a great defensive team to win a lot of games this year. Good will suffice.
- Luke Petrasek has hops.
The main reason for the Lions’ usage of a smaller lineup has been the emergence of Petrasek. The junior has completely taken over the five spot in Kyle Smith’s rotation, keeping the taller Conor Voss (7-foot-1) firmly attached to the bench (Voss only played four minutes Sunday).
Petrasek’s game is somewhat reminiscent of Alex Rosenberg’s. He can penetrate well, sets screens effectively and can even step out to take the occasional three. On Sunday, Petrasek finished with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, adding eight defensive rebounds.
He also showed off his remarkable athleticism, skying to the hoop for a vicious tomahawk slam with 1:20 left in the first half. The dunk extended the Lions’ lead to 40-22 and woke up a crowd that had been lulled asleep by some sluggish action earlier on.
“I want to see it again,” Petrasek said. “It got us hyped. It brought energy.”
- This team has resilience.
Sunday’s game came in a really precarious spot for the Lions. They easily could have come out for this one in a daze after fading down the stretch on the road Friday night against Northwestern.
A loss wouldn’t have been enough to send the fan base into panic mode, but Columbia needed this one today as it set up a stretch of three games in five days over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Instead, Kyle Smith had his team ready to put on what was easily its most complete performance the season.
“We played well,” he said. “I think Lehigh’s gonna win a lot of games, they’re good.
“They’re a handful to guard and we did a great job.”