Undefeated in last weekend’s Loyola Marymount Centennial Classic, the Columbia men’s basketball team is looking to bring its success in California back to its home court when the Lions (5-4) take on Holy Cross (3-5) tonight in the first of two games before the holiday break.
Over the weekend, the Light Blue defeated Loyola Marymount 69-61, North Texas 72-57, and La Sierra 78-56 to extend the team’s winning streak to five games. Outside shooting was a huge factor in the Lions’ success, as they averaged more than 50 percent from three-point range during the three games.
Leading Columbia’s shooters was sophomore guard Meiko Lyles, who was named Ivy League Player of the Week. Lyles scored double digits in all four of the team’s games last week, shooting 79 percent from beyond the arc.
Lyles was at his best on Saturday against North Texas, when he hit all five of his three-point attempts and scored a career-high 18 points to earn Loyola Marymount Centennial Classic Player of the Game.
Despite the importance of the three-pointers this weekend, head coach Kyle Smith knows his team cannot always rely on perimeter shooting.
“You can’t always control if those kind of shots go down,” Smith said. “We’ve got to stick to defending well. If our defense and rebounding stay consistent, we’ll do well.”
Tonight’s matchup with Holy Cross will be Columbia’s fourth match in a five-day span, and players expect a challenge.
“We’re sky-high right now, but we know we have a big game coming up,” junior guard Brian Barbour said over the weekend. “It’s a good vibe right now, but as soon as we get back, it’s back to business.”
The Crusaders are coming off a close 62-57 victory over New Hampshire on Saturday, a game which featured 10 lead changes. Though Holy Cross led 27-23 at the half, an 8-0 run by the Wildcats in the second period gave New Hampshire a one-point lead with 10 minutes remaining. However, clutch baskets by senior guard Devin Brown and free throws by freshman guard Justin Burrell gave the Crusaders enough of a lead to hold on for the win.
Brown, who finished with a game-high 15 points, is Holy Cross’ leading scorer, and the Lions’ head coach knows he will be a threat against Columbia.
“He’s just an all-around great player,” Smith said. “He’ll be hard to contain on the outside.”
Earlier in the season, Brown led all shooters with 17 points in the Crusaders’ 73-64 loss to No. 25-ranked Harvard, a game in which Holy Cross outrebounded the Crimson 28-24.
Smith predicts the Crusaders’ defense will be similar to the defenses of Loyola Marymount and North Texas that forced the Lions to give up a total of 46 turnovers over the weekend.
“Both games there were a lot of late turnovers, and I think it was a function of not having a lot of practice time,” Smith said.
In addition to taking care of the ball, Smith emphasized the importance of ball movement and capitalizing on open opportunities. The shooting success of the Lions in recent games is expected to bring more defensive pressure, which will make the post play of junior center Mark Cisco more important.
“Mark is a big presence inside,” Barbour said. “Playing through him makes our jobs as guards much easier.”
Even with the Lions’ shooting form at its best so far this season, the players and their coach agree the team can’t let their winning streak go to their heads.
“Obviously the spirits are good, but we’ve really tried to emphasize keeping an even keel all season,” Smith said.
Tipoff for tonight’s game is schedule for 7 p.m. in Levien Gymnasium.