Men’s basketball left Levien with a much-needed victory Saturday night, cruising past Howard 66-48. The game marks the end of Columbia’s nonconference season and brings the Lions’ winning streak to two heading into Ivy League action.
A first-half 12-0 run, fueled primarily by a staunch 1-3-1 zone on defense, sparked what was to quickly become a favorable, one-sided outing for the Light Blue, which never trailed. Columbia’s defensive efficiency is currently ranked 254th nationally, but the Lions held Howard, the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference favorite, to a dismal 27 percent field goal percentage.
In his second game back from injury, Bison star senior guard James Daniel never found his stroke against the Lions. Although Daniel led the nation in scoring last year with 27.1 points per game, he tallied just ten points on 3-11 shooting in Saturday’s game. Despite this lacking stat line, Columbia head coach Jim Engles maintained that his defensive strategy didn’t include any specific targeting of Daniel.
“I think [Daniel’s performance] was more a function of [the fact that] it’s only his second game back,” Engles said. “He’s still struggling getting into his flow. We did a good job shading him, but we didn’t do anything completely different to take him out of it.”
On the other end of the court, junior guard Nate Hickman once again led the way for Columbia with 14 points and seven rebounds in 26 minutes of action. Although Hickman shot only 1-6 from beyond the arc, well below his season average of 37 percent, he still managed to reach double-digit scoring for the ninth time this season, thanks to a perfect clip from the charity stripe.
Senior forward Jeff Coby also contributed a noteworthy double-double performance with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“[Coby’s] activity has really helped our defense,” Engles said. “He’s been great on the glass, and he’s creating some opportunities through his offensive rebounding. That’s something that I think we expected, so it’s great to see him start doing well.”
In total, the Lions hauled in 59 boards, a season high that significantly exceeded their previous average of 34 rebounds per game. Since rebounding is so critical to both defensive efficiency and transition offense, core tenets of Engles’ basketball philosophy, it has been and will continue to be a focal point of the team’s strategy.
“In the last couple games I think we’ve done a great job competing on the glass,” Engles said. “Over the last four games we’ve been much more consistent with our effort. We’re definitely playing a little bit harder, a little bit tougher, so it’s good to see.”
But the Light Blue, which shot a season-low 37 percent against the Bison, paced by a weak 6-27 combined clip from starters Mike Smith, Luke Petrasek, and Jake Killingsworth, will need to focus on offense to be competitive in conference play.
“The fact that we played good defense and rebounded the ball [meant] that we were able to ride out the [shooting] slump,” Engles said.
But the Lions cannot merely rely on luck to carry them through the conference season—they can probably expect extra shooting drills in practice this week.
Men’s basketball will next head to Ithaca, New York on Jan. 14 to take on Cornell in the Lions’ Ivy League conference opener.