Sunday, December 21, 2014

Columbia Outlasts Hofstra in Shootout

My family and I traveled up from South Carolina to Long Island starting Friday afternoon.   We got to Levittown, New York yesterday evening at 6:30 pm, just in time for me to spend a few bucks on a monthly Columbia Athletics - Ivy League Digital Network online streaming pass for my iPad.   I was looking forward to seeing Hofstra take on Columbia.

Columbia recently received a lot of well earned press for their showing at #1 Kentucky.   The Lions led a good part of that game until the Wildcats rallied in the second half for the 56-46 win.   But the game showed how good a team Columbia was, especially defensively.   The Lions held the Wildcats to thirty seven percent shooting from the field, including stifling Kentucky from beyond the arc, as Kentucky hit on only two of seventeen three point attempts.   The Kentucky game was typical of Columbia's defensive play, as they had only allowed one team to score more than sixty points in a game on the season, Loyola, heading into their game with Hofstra.

The Pride on the other hand, have been an offensive juggernaut this season.  They are averaging eighty one points per game, seventeenth in the nation.   Hofstra is especially deadly from three, with two players, Ameen Tanksley and Brian Bernardi, each shooting over forty nine percent from three.  The Pride shoot forty three percent from beyond the arc on the season.    

So it was the irresistible force meeting the immovable object at Francis Leven Gymnasium last evening, or so it seemed.   What happened was Columbia was willing to play along with Hofstra, especially one Lions' guard in particular.

From the start, the pace favored Hofstra. With not even five minutes gone by, both teams put up a lot of points quickly, with Dion Nesmith tying the game at nine by hitting all three free throws after he was fouled on a three point attempt.

As they did all night, Columbia moved the ball well on the Hofstra zone, especially early on as the Lions hit on six of their first eight three point attempts.  Steve Frankoski would hit three of those and Maodo Lo added two three pointers in the first eight minutes of the game.  Jeff Coby's three pointer made it 20-14 Columbia with a little over eleven minutes left in the half.

The Pride did a better job guarding the Lions on the three over the last ten minutes of the half as Columbia would miss on their last ten three point attempts in the half.   This allowed Hofstra to make a late 12-5 spurt in the half.  Brian Bernardi's three pointer put the Pride up 38-34 at the half.

Considering the Pride put up almost as many points in the first half as Bucknell did in an entire game in a loss against the Lions earlier this season (thirty nine), you would figure coach Kyle Smith told his team to slow down the pace in the second half.    

Nope, the pace was just fine for Columbia, especially for Lo in the second half.  

Lo came out gunning in the start of the second half, first burying a three, then hitting on a layup to give Columbia a 39-38 lead.    The Pride would take the lead back, as Juan'ya Green scored four straight points to give Hofstra a 44-41 lead. 

Columbia would respond with a 8-2 spurt.   Lo again led the way, getting an old fashioned three point play to put the Lions back in front 49-46.   But Tanksley, who is shooting fifty six percent from beyond the arc this season, would nail his only three pointer of the game to tie the contest at forty nine.

With the game tied at fifty one, the Lions went ahead on a Luke Petrasek layup.  Then Lo buried another three to extend the lead to five, 56-51.   The Pride would hang around over the next few minutes.  Niesmith's  layup cut the Columbia lead to three, 61-58 with a little less than eight and a half minutes left in the game.

The Lions would then go on a 12-5 spurt over the next nearly four minutes, with Lo leading the charge.  Lo would score the first eight points during that run, the final points coming on his seventh three pointer of the game to put the Lions up 69-61.   Petrasek would score the final four points of the spurt on a free throw and a three pointer to put Columbia up ten 73-63 with about four and a half minutes left.

Hofstra would rally, scoring the next eight straight points, the last six coming from Green on a three pointer and an old fashioned three pointer.  Green's foul shot on the three point play cut the Lions lead to two, 73-71 with 2:15 left.  

The Pride played terrific half court defense on the next Columbia possession forcing Lo in the corner to put up an errant three pointer off the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired.   But Hofstra failed to put a a body on Columbia's Kyle Castlin on the rebound.  The ball deflected off the backboard directly to Castlin who put back the rebound for an easy layup and the likely dagger in Hofstra's heart.  

Hofstra had three chances on their next possession to cut Columbia's lead to two or one, but failed to capitalize on the offensive rebounds,  which was a microcosm of the whole game.  On second chance points, Columbia outscored Hofstra 12-3 for the game.    

The Lions finally got the rebound and Castlin was fouled by Green, which was his fifth foul in the game. Castlin  hit both free throws to put Columbia up 77-71 with thirty eight seconds left.  A few seconds later, Hofstra coach Joe Mihalich, tired of the questionable officiating for both sides all night, finally had enough after a Bernardi foul, and got a technical.  Lo for one of the rare times all night, missed the free throw shot.  

The Pride did their best to keep it close, but in the end the Lions had the hard fought 82-77 win in which was a very entertaining game.

Lo was a thorn in the Pride's side all night.   After putting sixteen on Kentucky, the Lions' leading scorer on the season went off on Hofstra, scoring 29 points on 10 of 21 from the field, including 7 of 15 from beyond the arc.   The Lions went 13 for 35 on three point attempts. Frankoski added fourteen, including shooting four of nine from beyond the arc and Castlin added 13 points.

As they have all season, the  Pride again had balanced scoring, as four players scored in double figures.  Green led Hofstra with 19 points but he only shot 5 of 19 from the field.  Nesmith and Tanskley each had 18 and Malik Nichols added 10 points.  Bernardi added 8 points for Hofstra, who got 73 of their 77 points from their starters.  The Lions' bench outscored the Pride's bench 33-4.

What I got out of the game was the following;  As for the Lions, Columbia does a great job of guarding the three.  They held Hofstra to 8 of 24 from beyond the arc.   Green and Tanksley were a combined 2 of 13 from beyond the arc.    It does leave them susceptible to drives to the basket as Green and Tanskley did several times.   The Lions moved the ball very well on offense and Lo is a handful to guard.   

Columbia really misses though their leading scorer from last season,  Alex Rosenberg, out for the season due to injury.  They don't have an inside scoring presence to make up for him.   Even with their small lineup, Hofstra outscored Columbia 20-18 in the paint.   

Still, Kyle Smith has done a very nice job with this team, which definitely has talent, despite what some "basketball experts" say (   The Lions could not have played such a good game against Kentucky without having talented players.   Imagine if Smith had a healthy Rosenberg.

As for the Pride, they showed their offense is legit.  After holding Kentucky to 56 points, the Lions gave up 77 to Hofstra.  Their entire starting lineup nearly all scored in double figures.   They remind me of the 2006-07 Pride, in that they have outstanding guards in Green, Tanksley, Bernardi and Nesmith, all who started with Nichols being the lone forward.    What was also encouraging is, that after struggling for most of the year from the free throw line, the Pride shot 21 of 25 from the charity stripe.

What Hofstra needs to work on is their quickness in getting to shooters on zone defense.   Unlike the App State game, where Hofstra did a good job getting out to defend the three,  the Pride seemed to be a step slow guarding the three yesterday.   It seemed too packed in at times.    Also, Hofstra desperately needs to get an inside scoring presence.  It was great to see Moussa Kone back for the Pride yesterday.  But Rokas Gustys is still hurt and Andre Walker was nowhere to be found yesterday.  The Pride need some frontcourt presence on both defense and offense when they play the likes of Northeastern's Scott Eatherton later in the season in conference play.  

The next Hofstra game, I will get to see in person, on Tuesday vs. LaSalle.  It will be nice to be back at the Mack Center for what should be another good college basketball game.

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