He had a career-high 30 points against Yale on Saturday night. Columbia lost by double figures. The night before, he had 18 against Brown, and the Lions won by 11. The difference?
Noruwa Agho, Columbia’s leading scorer and breakout star, scored 25 of his 30 points unassisted against Yale. Against Brown over half of his points—10 of 18—were assisted. As head coach Joe Jones’ squad has learned this year, not only must Agho turn in an impressive score line for the Light Blue to be successful, but his points must come from within the offense.
This is nothing new for Agho or his teammates. After the disappointing loss to Yale, Agho was adamant that it wasn’t just his scoring alone that would lead the Lions to victory.
When asked about his career-best point total, he responded, “We’re not going to win with me scoring 50.”
Clearly, he cannot, and does not want to, go it alone. Against Yale the 6-food-3-inch shooting guard found baskets hard to come by, forcing him to muscle his way into the lane and draw fouls. Once he found his way to the charity strip, he made the Bulldogs pay. Half of his 30 points came from 15-for-18 shooting from the line.
The numbers are revealing. As long as a large percentage of Agho’s points are assisted by his teammates, Columbia is successful. When he has to create his own shots, offensive production seems to stagnate.
Against Dartmouth, the Lions’ other Ivy win, Agho scored 25 points, 11 of which came off of looks from teammates. Compare that to his other Ancient Eight games.
Against Cornell at home, Agho scored every one of his eight points without the help of an assist. The next Friday, when Harvard came to town, only three of Agho’s 12 points were assisted.
In those two contests, the Lions lost by an average of 28.5 points. In both games against Dartmouth and Brown, where around half of Agho’s points were assisted, Columbia won by double-figure margins. What’s more, the Light Blue averaged 16 points per game more as a team in those two outings than in the previous two against Harvard and Cornell.
Agho’s meager 10-point average against Harvard and Cornell could explain the troubles Columbia had against their Ivy competitors, as could the impressive pedigree each of those teams—Jones’ squad entered those games as heavy underdogs.
Saturday’s loss to Yale muddles that picture, though. The Lions’ scorer had 30 points, and the Bulldogs were supposed to put up a good fight, but not take the Light Blue’s home floor by storm.
Instead Yale opened up a commanding lead early and would not let their hosts back into the game, despite several second-half spurts.
Coach Jones and his team emphatically pointed to a lack of focus in explaining their struggles in what should have been a much more competitive game. But Jones is quick to add that his players are not lacking in effort, and, while acknowledging that “every team could work harder,” he looks elsewhere to find an explanation.
After the Cornell game, senior point guard Pat Foley talked about Agho’s role in the offense and about the work the team had to do around him to make sure its leading scorer was getting shots. Foley, currently out with a separated shoulder, puts the onus on himself and his teammates to ensure Agho’s success.
“Noruwa’s a big factor for us, and he couldn’t really get off tonight … It was really on all of us,” Foley said.
“I think we got to work a little harder to get Noruwa some better shots. I think we had a few times we could have … got him some easier ones and kind of get him in rhythm a bit, instead of having him go one on one all the time, which really kind of takes him out of rhythm.”
Weeks later, this rhythm still seems to be eluding the Lions.
For his part, Agho readily acknowledges the importance of his teammates in his success as a scorer. After the Light Blue’s win against Longwood, Agho credited his team for getting him good looks at the basket. In that game Agho showed signs of what was to come, scoring 24 points to achieve a Columbia win.
“My teammates are getting me in the right spots, and people are finding me,” Agho said. “That’s just as important as me making the shots.”
Niko Scott, one of the team’s best perimeter shooters, agrees.
“It’s not so much of me finding my groove,” Scott said. “it’s basically us working together as a team. I get my shots a lot out of the motion of the offense.”
Scott found the going tough against Yale, too, connecting on only one of four attempts from beyond the arc. The lack of cohesion in Columbia’s offense affects not just Agho but the entire team.
Agho’s 18 free throws against Yale are an indication that he had to take the burden on his back, making it hard for his teammates to get into a rhythm, too.
If Columbia hopes to bounce back this weekend against Princeton and Penn, the Lions will have to find the ball movement and team offense that helped them become the number-one three-point shooting team in the country, a perch the Lions lost during their offensive struggles of late.
Agho has proved that he can score even if his team isn’t clicking offensively, but the recent string of losses show that Jones’ team does not want to put its leading scorer in such a position. Agho and his teammates must find their points within the rhythm of the offense, particularly as they match up against a disciplined Princeton defense on Friday that makes points hard to come by, even for the most dynamic of teams.