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Maryam Hassan / Staff Photographer

Junior guard Nate Hickman bounced back from a slump in Friday's loss to Albany and will look to lead the Lions to a win at Maine.

Men’s basketball will head to Bangor, Maine on Tuesday, looking to snap a two-game skid in its first action of 2017.

The Light Blue (4-7) has dropped five out of its last six contests, but has nevertheless shown flashes of improvement.

In Friday’s contest against Albany, a 70-67 barnburner loss, junior guard Nate Hickman tallied 16 points. His poster dunk in the second half that caught the attention of multiple news outlets, including ESPN, which featured Hickman on its top-10 segment.

Hickman’s success served as a silver lining for the Lions, who struggled to put together a full 40 minutes of good play thus far in the non-conference season. In many of the team’s defeats, the Light Blue has held leads in the second half, only to see them slip away due to a combination of poor defense and bad luck. Yet, head coach Jim Engles and his staff have tried to use the non-conference slate to help develop consistency on both ends of the floor before Ivy League play begins on Jan. 14.

The Lions hold the 172nd-best offensive efficiency rating in the nation, per kenpom.com, anchored by an Ivy League-leading 47.2 field goal percentage, ranking 64th nationally.

The Light Blue will look to improve upon these marks against the Black Bears (4-10), who should present a challenge to a hungry Lions squad. Maine has dropped four consecutive contests, but topped Ivy League foe Dartmouth on the road for its most recent victory.

The Black Bears are led in scoring by junior guard Wes Myers, who has tallied 87 total points in his last six games, highlighted by a 31-point performance against the Big Green. The Brooklyn native figures heavily in Maine’s rotation—a majority of the Black Bears’ offense is run through the 6-foot-2 guard.

Myers’ successes could spark concern for the Columbia defense, currently ranked 295th in adjusted defensive efficiency. While the Light Blue has demonstrated a renewed focus with better defensive efforts in its last contests, now playing mostly zone defense, the team has  been unable to pull out wins against Division I opponents.

Sophomore forward Rodney Hunter, who has benefited from a minutes increase in his most recent contests, has served as a defensive anchor for the Light Blue, according to Engles. His intensity has helped buoy a steadily improving Lions back-end.

But, as the team lost four starters last year, the learning curve has been slow. With just two non-conference contests remaining, Engles and his staff remain optimistic that the team will continue to improve as the season progresses.

Tipoff at the Cross Insurance Center is at 2 p.m.

christopher.lopez@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

Columbia Lions Men's Basketball
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