Non-stop effort propels Columbia past Howard

MANHATTAN — The week between Christmas and New Year”s is often a sleepy week, even in the bustling metropolis on the Hudson. But it was anything but quiet uptown on the Monday evening after Christmas, as a robust crowd saw the Columbia Lions win their fifth consecutive game, defeating the Howard Bison, 72-59.

Facing off against the nation”s leading scorer, Howard”s James Daniel, the Light Blue”s much-maligned defense put on one of their best performances of the season in controlling the Bison.

While Daniel finished with 36 points, the slick guard did so on an inefficient 9-29 shooting, and 2-10 from beyond the arc. The quick feet of Maodo Lo, along with alert help defense, prevented Daniel from getting any clean looks at the basket.

“I thought I emphasized it enough in practice: he”s the leading scorer in the country, he”s the leading scorer in the country,” coach Kyle Smith (Hamilton “92) said with a laugh after the game. “We wanted to be better defensively, and I think we were.”

Daniel”s supporting cast was similarly stifled by Columbia”s stout defense. The rest of the team managed an anemic 7-33 from the field, fighting through a King”s College team that was working a lot harder and a lot smarter then in their previous outings. Though the early-season results suggested that the Lions” defense would be their Achilles” heel, tonight it felt like the world turned upside down.

As well as contributing through his defensive effort, Lo broke the game open on a sequence of three straight howitzers late in the first half. “I just tried to involve myself in the offense. I made the first one, and then said why not on the second one? And the third one,” Lo laughed.

Rather than one right hand man, Lo — who finished with 15 points to go with 4 assists and 4 rebounds  — relied on a quartet of support on both sides of the ball. Luke Petrasek picked up his first career double-double, leading the team with both 16 points and 11 boards while only committing one foul.

Often knocked for his rebounding, Petrasek said that it felt good to hit that milestone for the first time. “I feel like people hit me with that a lot, he can”t board, and I just wanted to prove that I can.”

Grant Mullins knocked down some big 3s and helped split Howard”s zone with his ballhandling. Kyle Castlin added 11 efficient points, rarely throwing away his shot, while playing alert defense, and the scrappy and hungry freshman Lukas Meisner snatched 7 rebounds and made three big blocks.

Petrasek and Meisner, in particular, showed a burgeoning chemistry. They were aware of each other”s locations, moved in tandem, and came inches close to executing an alley-oop — but Petrasek”s dunk was just off the rim.

“We”ve had good chemistry since the summer,” said Petrasek post-game. “We always talk about it, if I”m running, just throw it up… Don”t let coach hear that,” he casino added.

It”s worth calling some attention to just how bizarre of a team Howard is. Almost every offensive possession consisted of little more than Daniel (who is, to be fair, an extremely talented scorer) dribbling around like a madman and hoisting up a ridiculous shot. They had no inbounds plays — every one was a long toss out to half-court for Daniel to collect — and they didn”t bother to attempt to rebound on free throws. When combined with a rangy matchup zone on defense, the Bison presented a unique set of problems for Columbia,which they solved with relative ease.

After a slow start to the campaign, the Lions seem to be starting to gel, improving to a 9-5 mark with the win. “It took some time to make sure all the pieces are being incorporated into the team,” Lo observed after the game. “It”s definitely been coming together.”

The Lions are just two D-I games away from the 14 Game Tournament, where they will find out if they”ll reach the room where it happens for the first time since 1968. Until they win the league, they”ll never be satisfied.

ODDS AND ENDS: The game started with an extremely bizarre delay when one of the shot clocks failed to work, resulting in the game starting about 10 minutes late… Kyle Smith”s new fashion choice for this season has been a pair of glasses, but tonight he ditched them about halfway through the game. Or perhaps they flew off during one of his many polite conversations with the officials… Lo fouled out late in the game when a Howard player committed one of the most egregious flops I”ve ever seen, somehow hoodwinking the referees into a charge call on the Chairman… For a game with the students out of town, the crowd — listed at 1,514 — was very impressive, though on the quieter side.