Men’s basketball will complete its three game season-opening road trip at Quinnipiac in Hamden, Connecticut on Monday.
Despite Columbia’s 85-65 loss at the hands of St. Joseph’s in its last outing on Monday, head coach Jim Engles came away pleased with the team’s effort in Philadelphia.
“I thought it was a good experience for those guys to play a good Atlantic 10 team on the road to get a feel for the quickness, and to play against some good guards and physicality,” Engles said.
First-year forward Jake Killingsworth led the way for the Light Blue with 17 points and three rebounds, while junior guard Nate Hickman contributed 14 points in defeat.
Columbia has made adjustments in the six days since its last outing to ready for Quinnipiac. Both ends of the floor have received due attention in practice, but Engles has continued to integrate his fast-paced offensive vision. While the offense remains a work in progress, flashes of its potential shone through in the first two contests of the season.
“The guys have been catching on, but there’s a lot of new things that we’re trying to get them to implement,” Engles explained. “I thought we did some good things against Stony Brook, and then I don’t think we really played very well against St. Joe’s, so we’re trying to develop some consistency with it.”
According to kenpom.com, the Lions ranked 310th nationally in offensive tempo a year ago. But thus far, the increase in pace has been encouraging for a Light Blue team starting two first-years.
The development rings particularly true for starters Killingsworth and Mike Smith, who have had standout performances to begin the season for the Light Blue. Before Killingsworth’s stellar play on Monday, Smith tallied 14 points and nailed an off-balance three-pointer to seal the deal in Columbia’s opening victory against Stony Brook.
“I was happy with the way Mike stepped up in the Stony Brook game, and then obviously Jake played pretty consistent basketball against St. Joe’s,” Engles said. “I’m very happy with their progress up to this point, but there’s still a lot of things that they need to figure out as they go forward.”
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac is winless on the season, as it fell at home 94-70 to Vermont in its only game thus far. The Bobcats’ Reggie Oliver led the team in scoring with 15 points but was unable to rally his teammates to victory against the Catamounts.
Traditionally a hard-nosed, defense-oriented team, the Bobcats will pose some new challenges for the Lions, but the return of senior forward Jeff Coby from injury should bring some much needed physicality to Columbia’s frontcourt.
“[Coby] adds an athletic dynamic to our team, makes us a little more athletic up front, and should help us on the glass,” Engles said. “He’s got a lot of leadership skills, and he’s obviously a kid I think we can lean on physically.”
This game will cap off Columbia’s road stretch to kick off the year. Despite the challenges of traveling, Engles’ squad is making the most of its opportunity, looking to glean as much insight as possible from the experience.
“I still like our competitiveness, even though we’re playing a third straight road game,” Engles said. “To me, it’s just compete. It doesn’t matter where it is.”
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center.