Columbia bookended the second half with offensive spurts against Bucknell last night, but inconsistent shooting kept the Lions from turning a ten-point halftime deficit into their second road win of the year as they ultimately dropped a 73-68 decision.
Columbia (3-4) looked to be on its way to a repeat of Sunday’s thrilling second-half comeback against American, scoring the first seven points of the second half to cut the Bison’s lead to 40-37.
The Lions would not get any closer, though, as a Bison mid-range jumper from the baseline gave the hosts a 42-37 cushion. Freshman guard Dyami Starks nailed a 3-pointer off a dish from junior guard Noruwa Agho to cut the lead back to three at 49-46 with just over ten minutes to play. From there Bucknell (3-6) went on a 11-3 run to stretch its lead to 60-49 before Starks converted on a pair of three throws. Columbia scraped back into the game late, clawing back to within four with under 30 seconds to play. It was too late for the Lions to pull off the comeback, however, as a Bucknell free-throw and a turnover on the ensuing inbounds ended any last-ditch hopes.
As a team, Columbia shot 8-for-25 from beyond the arc, including a dry stretch during the middle of the second half. Head coach Kyle Smith was unhappy with his squad’s shooting on the night but said the shot selection was fine.
“We got some good looks.” Smith said. “We weren’t consistent all 40 minutes, but when we could get stops and get into transition we got some good looks, and also in the halfcourt we did a good job. I was pleased with the shots we took.”
Freshmen sharpshooter Steve Frankoski convereted on three 3-pointers in the first half but struggled to find his range in the second, finishing 4-for-11 on the night from behind the arc. Frankoski led the team with 12 points in the game, followed by Starks and Agho who both finished with 11. The Light Blue shot only 32 percent from downtown and were unable to consistently make Bucknell pay for collapsing hard on Agho, the Lions’ leading scorer on the season.
In addition to his 11 points, Agho finished the game with nine rebounds and five assists despite consistently drawing double-teams from the Bison. He had six turnovers on the night.
“Noruwa struggled a little in the first half, but he bounced back and competed really hard,” Smith said. “I was proud of him. I think he really kept it going, they were keying off of him so hard and bringing so much help that he has to be more of a playmaker for us, and he’s done that. He did that, and he kept [this] game close for us, and I was excited about that. His attitude was terrific ... he didn’t play his best offensively but he did a lot of things that made us better.”
Sophomore point guard Brian Barbour had a solid night alongside Agho and Frankoski in the backcourt, contributing 10 points and five assists while avoiding a single turnover.
“He’s pretty consistent,” Smith said. “He takes care of the ball.”
As the first-year starter gets more comfortable in his role, Smith indicated Barbour would be counted on to be more of an offensive option, particularly as opponents begin to focus more on containing Agho.
“Honestly I wish he was a little more assertive at times, I think he could release some of that pressure on Noruwa,” Smith said. “They’re keying in on Noruwa sometimes, I think it should be a little easier for Brian. That said, he’s been very steady, and he’s evolving and he’s growing up and I think he’ll only get better.”
Starks contined to provide a spark for the Lions off the bench, finishing 3-for-6 from the field. All of his field goals were from three-point land.
“Dyami does what he does,” Smith said. “He scores. He’s fearless and he’s gonna be a good one. He’s still young and he still needs to keep improving defensively, which is usually what most freshman have to do.”
The battle of the boards was nearly even on the night, with a 36-35 edge for Columbia overall and a 12-11 margin on the offensive glass in favor of Bucknell. The Bison were able to capitalize on those extra opportunities, scoring 19 second-chance points to the Lions’ 14. Smith pointed to that difference as one of the decisive factors in the night’s loss.
“We gave them some second opportunities there, and they’re a good team,” he said. “When you go on the road, you really have to dig in and come up with the ball.”
Smith was encouraged by the defensive effort his big men put in, though, saving special praise for senior center Max Craig. Craig matched up against Bucknell center Mike Muscala, who going into the game was considered the Bison’s biggest threat. Muscala finished with just six points after getting into foul trouble and playing only 17 minutes overall.
“I think we have good defensive 5’s, and I think Max Craig is really one of the better defensive 5’s I’ve ever coached,” Smith said. “I felt good there, that we’d match up okay.”
Bucknell hurt the Lions from the outside, though, as guard Darryl Shazier led all scorers with 15 points and went 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. Overall, the hosts shot 50 percent from downtown, going 6-for-12.
“Unfortunately, I was hoping we’d defend the three a little better but, gosh dangit, we didn’t,” Smith said. “We played smaller and quicker. I thought we needed to have some shooters out there that maybe aren’t our best defenders. That was the hand I was playing, that we were going to play our shooters a little more, and make some shots and get out of here with a win. It sort of backfired a little bit.”
The Bison commited an uncommonly low four turnovers on the night.
“Hats off to them,” Smith said. “I don’t care what kind of defense you’re playing. I was told they had zero [turnovers] in the second half, and that’s ridiculous, that’s really impressive. We were competing well, and to not just have one thrown out of bounds or to kick one off your foot, that’s impressive.”
Overall, however, Smith was encouraged by his defense. Bucknell finished 22-for-62 from the field, good for a 35.5 percent shooting percentage.
“It was better for us defensively, their defensive field goal percentage was a good number for us. The better we can do there on the perimeter defensively, the better we’ll be.”
The Lions will look to protect their perfect home record when they host Stony Brook at Levien Gym this Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.