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.
Playing in its first game against a Division I opponent, Columbia (1-1) hung around for a while against Kansas State (2-0), but faded down the stretch and fell, 81-71.
On one hand, the Lions did a good job handling the environment inherent to playing a Power Five conference team on the road. Their half-court offense generated a solid number of in-close looks. On the other end of the floor, Kyle Smith switched things up a bit midway through the game, installing a 1-3-1 zone that the Wildcats really struggled to overcome.
We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because no Ivy mascot is cuddlier than Roar-ee. Especially not the creepy Quaker guy.
Some nights, you have the feeling you’re going to see something special.
The night of March 7, 2015, five seconds before tip-off, I sat down next to Toothless Tiger on Jadwin Gym’s press row. The first words out of my mouth?
“I think Maodo goes for 40 tonight.”
As it turned out, this prediction was wildly inaccurate.
Columbia issued a statement from head coach Kyle Smith announcing the departure of senior guard Meiko Lyles and sophomore forward Zach En’Wezoh from the Columbia basketball program.
Smith’s statement reads as follows:
“Meiko Lyles and Zach En’Wezoh have decided to leave the program. They both will remain enrolled at Columbia. Meiko decided to take his last year and focus on his academics and securing a job after graduation. Zach’s situation is more medical. He has battled through a series of injuries since he’s been here and, despite his best efforts, does not believe his body can make it through the rigors of another season. Meiko and Zach have been great representatives of our program. We respect and support both of their decisions and wish them nothing but the best.”
While the sting of En’Wezoh’s departure will be mitigated by Columbia’s deep frontcourt, the loss of Lyles is a big one for a program universally thought to be on the rise following last season’s 21-13 finish. Lyles came on strong down the stretch in the regular season last year, hitting a game-winning three to give the Lions a win at Princeton, posting 21 points on 80 percent shooting from the field in a 70-68 win against Brown and providing solid perimeter defense on a consistent basis.
Lyles’s absence will put pressure on freshman guards Kyle Castlin and Nate Hickman to contribute in perhaps greater roles than previously expected, but Lyles’s tight defense will be missed regardless. His D was a factor in Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Tony Hicks’s combined 3-for-15 performance from the field for Penn at Levien Gym late in the season and he helped contain Armani Cotton in Columbia’s 16-point win over Yale.
But that win over Yale may also provide an answer for how replace Lyles going forward.
Steve Frankoski notched 17 points off the bench against the Bulldogs, and the senior guard will have to help fill Lyles’s shoes in 2014-15.