NEW YORK – Two minutes into Columbia’s final game before a brief Thanksgiving break, coach Kyle Smith’s face was redder than cranberry sauce. His team had turned it over on four straight possessions to start the game, the Lions couldn’t stop Wofford from stuffing the ball through the net and were generally playing like turkeys.
So Smith went to his bench and called upon junior forward Jeff Coby and sophomore guard Nate Hickman, the duo that helped turn the game from an 11-3 deficit into a 70-59 win for the Lions at Levien. Hickman hit a three-pointer on his first touch to get the crowd back into the game, and then it was time for the Isaac Cohen/Jeff Coby show. On three straight possessions, the Cohen to Coby combination resulted in layups for the big man and the Lions were back in it. Cohen said he just wanted to be aggressive early in the game, and noticed that Wofford was playing off him which presumably helped open up passing lanes for the senior swingman.
Those were three of Cohen’s career-high tying nine assists, and his coach could not stop praising his all-around effort after the game, as Smith said that he “will nominate Isaac Cohen” for the Columbia hall of fame after the season, noting his ability to play any position on the court on offense or defense, calling him “an unsung hero that any coach would love to have.”
This is not Smith being caught up in the moment either. I vividly recall Smith after the Lions win at Cornell during Cohen’s freshman year, a game in which Cohen came off the bench to post seven assists, yelling to anyone within earshot, “How about Isaac Cohen?”
In a game during which senior forward Alex Rosenberg was off due to an early foul and “wasn’t as locked in as (he) needed to be” and a fatigued senior guard Maodo Lo could not find his jump shot, it was perhaps the least heralded of the Columbia starters who paced the team to victory on each end of the floor. Aside from the Coby layups that Cohen facilitated, the latter passed up a layup to hit Rosenberg in the corner for a three pointer that helped put the game away in the final few minutes. Defensively, after Wofford’s Justin Gordon bullied Rosenberg inside for four straight baskets, it was Cohen who picked up the 6’6 senior and held him in check for most of the game, even drawing a charge against Gordon which sent him to the bench early in the second half and led to a Columbia run to take a comfortable lead.
Kyle Smith could not stop raving about bench players like Hickman, Coby, C.J. Davis, and Lukas Meisner (DIRK JR.!) after the game, and their contributions certainly helped slow down a speedy Terriers offense. But without Isaac Cohen to keep the ball moving, stop a dominant scorer and crash the boards (he had five rebounds), the Lions do not beat Wofford. Instead, they beat a strong nonconference opponent and might have shown that even when their two best players are off, they will not be easily defeated.