Maodo Lo scored a team-high 20 points as Columbia won third straight, defeating NJIT 65-56. (Photo courtesy of Columbia University Athletics)
NEW YORK -- After their thrilling last-second win over Manhattan, Columbia head coach Kyle Smith referred to Wednesday night's game as the beginning of what he termed "champions' week" as the Lions faced three consecutive teams that advanced to postseason play last season.
With one more remaining, his team is now 2-0 in that stretch.
Behind 20 points from senior guard Maodo Lo, the Lions (7-5) led by as many as 20 points midway through the second half, but had to stave off a late rally from NJIT in the closing minutes to escape Levien Gymnasium with a 65-56 victory, dropping the Highlanders to 6-5.
"I was really excited because we defended better," a relieved Smith offered after Columbia wrapped up their third straight win. "We've done some things differently this year where the goal and the narrative has been that we're going to get a little stingier defensively as we go, and hopefully that's the case."
Aside from Lo, no other player scored in double figures for the Lions, but that was not a major concern, as the Lions held NJIT to just 34 percent (22-for-64) shooting from the floor. Damon Lynn, the Highlanders' leading scorer, battled his way to 11 points, but was shut out completely in the opening stanza, missing all 11 attempts before the intermission.
NJIT was led in the losing effort by Ky Howard, whose 23 points paced all scorers. Terrence Smith chipped in with 12 points of his own, and Tim Coleman's 10 rebounds were a game-high. But after an overtime triumph Thursday night against St. Francis Brooklyn, head coach Jim Engles admitted fatigue may have been a factor for the Highlanders tonight.
"We looked tired," he said. "I think it just sort of manufactured itself in that every possession became worse than the next, and we dug a hole that we couldn't really get out of. It was sort of inexplicable, because we played so well the night before."
In addition to his 20 points, Lo also posted seven rebounds in what was, by and large, a much more impressive effort from the all-Ivy Leaguer after he was held to just 12 in the Lions' win over Manhattan.
"Sometimes you grab them, sometimes you don't," a candid Lo said with regard to his rebounding effort. "Today, I had to rotate and box out some people, so I came up with the rebounds."
Columbia continues its three-game homestand with a Monday afternoon matinee against Robert Morris, hosting the Colonials at 2 p.m., while NJIT takes a weeklong hiatus before returning to the floor one week from Sunday against St. John's.