Following last night’s devastating 80-78 loss to Saint Joseph’s, Columbia (4-5) has now lost three out of its last four games by a combined four points.
Each time, the Lions have had the ball in their hands with a chance for the tie or victory on the last possession. Each time, they’ve come up short.
Last night, it was the Lions’ defense that surprisingly gave them a chance to win late in the second half after largely going missing for much of the second frame. Saint Joseph’s shot 59.4 percent in the second half after missing 22 of its first 33 shots, but Columbia’s press defense came up huge in the final two minutes, forcing a five-second call and a turnover on the sideline that set up the final play.
With 5.3 seconds to go, the Lions had a golden opportunity, inbounding in the Hawks’ half of the floor. Everyone knew where the ball was going — especially Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli.
“On that last play, it had to go through Lo,” he said. “We’ve been telling our players Wednesday and Thursday, ‘the game is in his hands.’”
Maybe that’s part of the problem, in a sense.
No one’s denying that The Chairman is a fantastic player. He scored 21 points against the Hawks and added two steals. He’s come up huge in clutch situations plenty of times in the past.
But last night, the endgame play that Columbia used was a simple inbound and iso to Lo, who was bodied up well by James Demery and didn’t really get a clean look on a layup that didn’t fall.
Thus the question: Is there a better way that Lo can be used in these situations?
There are two competing philosophies at play. The first is that you want to get the ball in the hands of your best player, regardless of any other factors. Taking this route with Lo opens up another set of pathways: What’s the best way to get the ball in his hands?
Last night, the Lions were content to let Lo try and create something off the dribble and go for the tie. That didn’t work. If you want Lo shooting at the buzzer, there are other — and probably better ways — to get him the ball, whether its setting him up for a catch-and-shoot with a couple of screens or inbounding the ball to someone else and letting him trail behind.
The other argument is that Lo might be best off serving as a decoy, attracting a defender or two away from the basket and freeing up one of the Lions’ other offensive options to take the last shot.
Of course, all of this talk is for nothing if the Lions just do their work early and prevent games from falling into these situations in the first place. After a solid start (Hawks star DeAndre Bembry, a possible NBA prospect, was held scoreless in the first half), the Lions’ mix of man and 2-3 zone wound up giving the Hawks too many open looks from deep.
“Second half, we did not defend well enough to give ourselves a chance to win,” Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. “Hopefully — and we’ve been in this situation too often, too early — we’re gonna find a way to get a little stingier defensively and get better.”
One could argue the inadequate stinginess has already cost the Lions three wins.