After losing games in the final minute at UConn and Albany to finish a season-opening seven-game road trip, the Columbia Lions returned home to Levien Gymnasium to play Quinnipiac. And lost in the final minute.
Rich Kelly’s layup with 4.4 seconds remaining on the clock gave Quinnipiac an 89-87 victory in a shootout over the Lions. Columbia is now 1-7 on the season, while the Bobcats are 3-6 in Baker Dunleavy’s first season.
“We’re a possession here, a possession there from basically flipping our record,” Columbia head coach Jim Engles said. “I’ve been in this long enough, I know this happens.”
Vincent Simone will have some thoughts from the Quinnipiac side of things later, but here are three thoughts on Columbia.
1. The offense looks excellent in Engles’ second season. Quinnipiac has been one of the worst defensive teams in Division I early in the season, so it wasn’t surprising that Columbia lit up the nets for 1.23 points per possession, but the Lions put the points up in a much different way than in the past. Columbia shot 71.4 percent on two-point attempts (25-35) by dominating the paint and getting into the open court early and often.
Mike Smith was lethal on drives into the teeth of the Quinnipiac defense. He was able to get into the paint and finish layups and distribute at will. He scored 20 points on 8-13 shooting and had seven assists to just two turnovers.
“They gave me everything,” Smith said. “I tried to find everybody when they switched, tried to get the ball inside and take advantage of the mismatch.”
Columbia had 23 assists as a team. Big men Lukas Meisner, Patrick Tape and freshman Jaron Faulds seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do offensively. Meisner has become very comfortable as stretch four. He scored 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and dished out six assists. Tape is Columbia’s force in the paint. He scored 12 points on 6-9 shooting inside by backing down overmatched defenders inside. Faulds also has an excellent array of post moves for a freshman. He made a sky hook, showed some fancy footwork in the paint, and demonstrated the ability to get above the rim in scoring 12 points in 12 minutes on the floor.
“I’m really happy with the effort they gave offensively,” Engles said about Tape and Faulds inside. “I thought the guys did a good job of getting them involved. They tried to switch out and we were just throwing to the switch and I thought it was good matchup issues for us and Patrick and Jaron took advantage of that.”
Last season, Columbia’s offense often stagnated in the dead zone between the three-point arc and the paint. It may still occur this season against teams that are better at walling up against penetration, but it appears the Lions have a better array of experienced offensive weapons to deploy. CU has scored more than a point per possession in all five of its games against mid-major opponents. The Lions 1.22 points per possession was the best mark Columbia had hit against a Division I team since the 2016 CIT semifinals against Engles’ last NJIT team.
2. The defense, on the other hand, is a work in progress. Of course Columbia lost despite that offensive explosion by allowing Quinnipiac to score 1.25 points per possession, the Lions’ worst defensive performance of the season.
“I think if there were any lapses it was just communication,” Quinton Adlesh said. “We were set to do the right things, just when movement happened we got out of position.”
Columbia certainly was a little unlucky that Quinnipiac, which is shooting 38 percent from distance even after Monday, hit 17-34 from 3. QU came out hot, knocking down 10-18 in the first half. The Bobcats calmed down a bit in the second 20 minutes, but not enough to make a significant difference. Engles’ defense is predicated on switching a lot, especially on the perimeter, and defenders appeared to get lost at times. CU managed to jump into passing lanes to get 11 steals and force 14 QU turnovers overall.
“The fact that they made 10 threes in the first half was something that concerned me,” Engles said. “It was one of those games where you needed one stop here or there and you were hoping someone would miss a shot at some point so you could just get the ball back.”
After QU attempted 54 percent of its shots from 3 opponents have now taken 43 percent of their attempts from long-distance, 301st nationally. That leaves the Lions playing a very dangerous game. It appears to be one though that Engles is comfortable playing. His teams have allowed opponents to take at least 39.5 percent of their shots from 3 in three of the past four seasons. Sometimes though that leads to a weaker opponent having a breakthrough night and a frustrating loss.
3. The freshman are still working on earning Engles’ trust. Nate Hickman (33 minutes), Lukas Meisner (35 minutes), Quinton Adlesh (35 minutes) and Mike Smith (40 minutes) all played at least 33 minutes on Monday. Faulds received 12 minutes of playing time, but Tai Bibbs (7 minutes) and Gabe Stefanini (5 minutes) didn’t play much. The bench beyond Faulds combined to take just three shots.
“Right now I’m just looking for some consistency defensively,” Engles said about the lack of minutes off the bench. “I think with the freshman sometimes we struggle with communication issues and we just have mixups.”
These though are the games where freshman, and players with less in-game experience, such as Peter Barba, need to learn how to react in the defensive rotation.
“The freshmen didn’t do anything wrong,” Engles said. “I really wanted to play them. Just the way we were playing defensively I couldn’t afford to have, I just wanted a more veteran group that had played together.”
Columbia was without Kyle Castlin, who hasn’t played since the season-opener against Villanova due to injury. The Lions still hope he’ll be able to return before Ivy play. Rodney Hunter, another player who could be a difference maker off the bench, committed three fouls in just six minutes on the court.