Paul O'Neill was at the Columbia vs. Furman game on Monday night watching his son, Aaron O'Neill; who sat on the bench for the entire game. The former Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees outfielder collected 2,105 hits and made the All-Star team five times. He was a good player, but not an all-time great.
Yet O'Neill still managed to play on five World Series champions during his career, because he played with guys like Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. O'Neill was a good player, but he never had to be "the man" on a championship team.
To be a champion a team needs those elite players, the guys to lean on when everything goes wrong. Each November every college basketball team spends game time searching for "the man."
Coming into the season Columbia already knew it would be Noruwa Agho. Last season Agho used 28.4% of the Lions' possessions whenever he was on the court - that's stats speak for what some would call a ball hog - and led the team with 16.8 points per game. He is the focal point of Columbia's offense.
As Columbia's band played "I'll Make a Man Out of You" at the under four timeout in the first half Agho had already attempted eight of his 16 shots, but he had just six points. He'd go on to score 12 along with five turnovers and five assists.
He also got hurt with 6:19 remaining in the game.
When Agho went down clutching his knee Columbia was trying to hold onto the final threads of the 13-point lead it had raced out to in the first half. The Lions aren't noted for their offensive efficiency, but with tough defense Columbia had managed to get a working margin over their Southern Conference challenger. But in the second half the lead had slowly dwindled and when Agho went out things went from bad to worse.
Someone else had to step up. Brian Barbour tried. The junior forward was Columbia's most efficient scorer last season, but he's a point guard with soft shooting touch - not a fearless bowling ball heading fearlessly down the lane like Agho. Barbour tried valiantly, taking over that role, and spurring the offense along, but he committed two turnovers, missed a three, and just like that Furman had the lead.
It came as a bit of a shock to those in the building. The Paladins really snuck up on everyone. It felt like Columbia was in control almost until 2:05 remaining, the exact moment it wasn't. Without Agho to drive and score or dish the Lions couldn't generate that one basket that could end Furman's run and help Columbia regain the momentum.
No one could be the man, and while Kyle Smith tried everything possible to spur his team for a few extra baskets, it wasn't enough. Columbia was 0-2 after falling 62-58. The extent of Agho's injury is unknown, but the Lions might be looking for a new lead guy soon.
at QUINNIPIAC 68, YALE 62 11/15/2011
YALE 1-1 (0-0) -- G. Mangano 1-7 2-4 5; J. Kreisberg 1-4 8-8 10; A. Morgan 3-11 5-5 13; R. Willhite 7-14 2-5 18; I. Salafia 1-6 0-1 2; M. Grace 1-5 0-0 2; S. Martin 0-2 4-5 4; J. Duren 1-6 5-8 7; G. Kelley 0-0 0-0 0; B. Sherrod 0-0 1-2 1; A. Cotton 0-0 0-0 0; J. Pritchard 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-56 27-38 62. QUINNIPIAC 1-1 (0-0) -- J. Johnson 8-20 6-8 25; I. Azotam 5-8 7-9 17; Z. Hearst 0-3 0-0 0; A. Jackson 1-5 3-4 5; D. Johnson 1-6 0-0 2; J. Jackson 3-4 0-0 6; O. Drame 1-2 5-6 7; N. Gause 0-5 0-0 0; M. Barnett 0-1 0-0 0; J. Harris 1-6 1-1 3; E. Conti 1-2 1-4 3. Totals 21-62 23-32 68.
Three-point goals: YALE 5-20 (G. Mangano 1-3; R. Willhite 2-4; M. Grace 0-1; S. Martin 0-2; A. Morgan 2-6; I. Salafia 0-3; J. Duren 0-1), QUIN 3-9 (J. Johnson 3-7; N. Gause 0-2); Rebounds: YALE 35 (G. Mangano 10), QUIN 53 (I. Azotam 18); Assists: YALE 5 (A. Morgan 2), QUIN 9 (J. Johnson 3); Total Fouls -- YALE 27, QUIN 30; Fouled Out: YALE-None; QUIN-J. Jackson.