Columbia needs someone besides Maodo Lo to step up on offense

Maodo Lo has taken the step from terrific role player to bona fide star. Courtesy Photo / Columbia Athletics

During Columbia’s 70-61 loss to Stony Brook Tuesday night, one thing became incredibly evident: the Lions need to find a way to win without relying so heavily on Maodo Lo.

Lo, Columbia basketball’s leading scorer, was held to a season-low seven points on two-of-nine shooting. The junior point guard with the sweet shooting touch couldn’t get his offense going as Stony Brook’s defenders did a good job limiting his scoring opportunities.

“People were sitting on him pretty hard, (Carson) Puriefoy did a great job getting up under him and didn’t give him a lot of looks,” Columbia head coach Kyle Smith said. “In on-ball coverage they were pretty aggressive and he’s got to be better in those situations, just knowing he’s a guy they’re sitting on and he’s got to fight his way out of it. But I think that’s part of the process going through it, for him, and he’s gonna have to figure it out for us to get better.”

The Seawolves big men would hedge out hard on Lo every time he received a handoff, not giving him any clean looks at three-pointers. Multiple defenders would meet him in the lane each time he drove to the basket. Lo’s first points of the game came on two free throws with under eight minutes left.

“We had a saying, ‘Everybody has to guard Lo,’” Puriefoy said. “We need to help each other out, we need to have each other’s back. I think we did a great job on him tonight.”

The fact that Stony Brook’s defensive gameplan was so focused on Lo says it all. Columbia’s offense is so centered on Lo that the Seawolves didn’t view anyone else as a threat. The Lions (7-6) have been able to win with him carrying the offensive burden in the past, but other players will have to contribute as Ivy League-play approaches.

“He’s shot some people out of the gym before, like the game against Hofstra (29 points with seven three-pointers) where he just got it going,” Smith said. “He can do that, but that’s a tough way to live. If we’re gonna get better, [he’s gonna need some help].”

Steve Frankoski had a team-high 16 points off the bench on four-of-six shooting from beyond the arc. Cory Osetkowski had a nice first half with 11 points on four-of-four shooting from the field, but finished the game with 15 points while making just one of his last eight attempts. Starting forward Chris McComber was limited to just seven minutes and starting guard Kyle Castlin played well in the first half but spent most of the second half on the bench as Smith needed more size on the floor to contend with Stony Brook’s big men.

“Our frontcourt guys haven’t been able to stay healthy all year, and hopefully we can get there,” Smith said. “Luke (Petrasek) will help us there, Jeff (Coby) will help us there. We’re not there yet so those young guys got to get us there more.”

One bright spot was the emergence of Isaac Cohen, who followed up a season-high 11-point performance in a loss to St. Francis (Brooklyn) with eight points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Cohen had an advantage on smaller guards in the post and even knocked down his second three-pointer of the season.

“This week was our first full week of practice that we’ve had in a while, and I was really aggressive,” Cohen said. “We did a lot of live stuff in practice and I was aggressive in practice and that’s just carried over into the last two games.”

“I want him to be more aggressive and shoot,” Smith said. “He’s getting confident, our goal is to get him to be more aggressive going to the basket.”

An off-night is rare for Lo, who has been excellent all season long. Still, other players will have to step up if Columbia hopes to be successful during conference-play.