While a shooting slump has sunk the men's basketball team several times in the recent past, the team overcame it with some adjustments and a well-timed hot streak on Saturday, defeating Eastern Michigan (22-15), 69-56, in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
Junior forward Alex Rosenberg and sophomore guard Maodo Lo scored 15 points each to pace the Lions (21-12). Rosenberg also reached a career milestone with his 1,000th point for the Light Blue.
“It's obviously a good accomplishment,” Rosenberg said. “Right now, I think 21 wins is more special because it's more of a team thing.”
That 21st win was in serious jeopardy for most of the second half.
Against the Eagles' strong zone defense, the Lions needed to make their outside shots. And while they did that early in the game—extending their lead to as many as nine points—they went cold at the end of the first half and in the early part of the second.
“I knew there'd be an ebb and flow,” Light Blue head coach Kyle Smith said after the game. “As long as we took care of the ball we'd be OK.”
But the Lions committed eight turnovers in the first half. The Eagles used the last two, both steals, to tie the game at 28 heading into the break, and continued to fluster Columbia's offense in the second half. Although junior center Cory Osetkowski was able to cleanly receive passes in the lane, he didn't take advantage. Other passing lanes were covered by Eastern Michigan's 2-3 zone defense, and Osetkowski and his teammates often found hands in their faces as soon as they turned to face the basket for a potential shot. The Eagles had eight steals and three blocks in the first 30 minutes of the game.
“I think they get used to what you're doing offensively—that's what kind of happened at the end of the first half,” Smith said.
“They were definitely long, athletic—it was tough to pass,” Osetkowski said. “But we found a way.”
With 9:10 left in the game, a dunk by forward Karrington Ward put the Eagles up, 51-45. EMU only scored one basket the rest of the way, though—a three by guard Raven Lee, who torched Columbia for 26 points—as the Lions buckled down defensively and started finding the net at the other end.
Rosenberg knocked down a pair of threes, Osetkowski hit a pair of jumpers from the free-throw line, sophomore guard Maodo Lo scored a layup, and with the Lions up by six, they never looked back.
“Anytime you're playing against a team where all five guys can shoot the basketball, it poses a threat,” Eastern Michigan head coach Rob Murphy said, adding that Columbia's pump fakes were effective. “I thought right there in that stretch they made two and three extra passes as opposed to settling for shots, and those extra passes get you wide open looks.”
“Against the zone, you gotta move the ball, keep them on their toes,” Rosenberg said.
Osetkowski, who scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in the second half, added that it took him time to get used to Eastern Michigan's defense—which allows the 17th-fewest points per game in the country.
But behind good ball movement, Columbia pushed its run to 14-0 before the Eagles managed to respond. The Lions went a perfect 8-for-8 from the line in the final 68 seconds to hang on comfortably for the win.
“The teams that are excited, want to extend it, play with joy—they're the ones that finish off,” Smith said.
The Light Blue will next be in action on Wednesday, hosting Yale in the CIT quarterfinals.
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