The men's basketball team will continue its march through the CollegeInsider.com Tournament this weekend, hosting Eastern Michigan on Saturday.
Both the Eagles and the Lions are coming off nail-biting wins in their respective first-round CIT matchups. Eastern Michigan hosted and defeated Norfolk State, 58-54, on Tuesday, while the Lions are coming off a thrilling 58-56 triumph at Valparaiso, thanks to sophomore guard Maodo Lo.
With just 28 seconds left in the game and Columbia up by one, Crusader forward Vashil Fernandez grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled. Light Blue head coach Kyle Smith said he talked about strategy during the resulting media timeout.
“We were really concerned about the second free throw, getting the rebound,” Smith said, mentioning that a missed free throw from Fernandez, who shot under 50 percent from the line this season, was likely. “We said if it's a tied game, we'll just play for one shot with Maodo.”
Fernandez knocked down one free throw—tying the game—but missed the second. Sophomore guard Isaac Cohen grabbed the rebound for Columbia. The Lions got the ball to Lo, who ran down the clock, drove, stepped back, and knocked down a long jumper at the buzzer.
Eastern Michigan presents a different challenge for Columbia than Valparaiso. The Eagles really rely on their defense—among the very best in the country—to win games. The Green and White ranks second in the country in effective field goal percentage defense according to Hoop-Math and just outside the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. Smith compared the Eagles to Syracuse for their zone defense.
A big part of Eastern Michigan's 2-3 zone is seven-foot center Da'Shonte Riley, the 2014 Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Riley has averaged nearly three blocks per game this season. Smith called him an NBA-caliber post defender.
“We're going to stretch them out. We gotta be able to make some outside shots,” Smith said. “It'll be hard if we don't.”
Columbia's outside shooting has been a little spotty recently, but the Lions have found ways to put together victories nonetheless, winning six of their last eight games. Junior center Cory Osetkowski has scored in double figures in three straight games, including a 21-point performance on Tuesday.
“Everything from here on out is good education for our guys, as far as getting practices this late in the year, and playing these situations, understanding what postseason basketball is like,” Smith said. “Our guys are focused and yet very excited.”
Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Levien Gymnasium. The game will also be streamed on CollegeInsider.com.
firstname.lastname@example.org | @muneebalamcu