NEW YORK CITY - It is amazing how much can change in the span of a week.
Around 9 p.m. last Saturday, the Penn men's basketball team was headed to overtime with Harvard. The Quakers were 3-0 in the Ivy League, more than 6,000 fans were going crazy at The Palestra, and the possibilities seemed limitless.
When the Quakers dragged themselves off the floor at Columbia's Levien Gym this Saturday at about 9 p.m., they did so with the Lions having pinned them with their fourth straight conference loss. Unlike the other three, this one did not need overtime. Instead, Columbia turned a 35-35 game at halftime into a quick lead in the second stanza, and never looked back in gaining a 75-62 win.
So now Penn is 9-12 overall, 3-4 in the Ivy League and chasing the frontrunners. Columbia improved to 13-9 overall and is now 4-4 in Ivy play.
Did Penn's legs give out? Well, it was the Quakers' fifth game in eight days. Three of them went to overtime, including the double-OT affair with Harvard, so tack on a full extra half of game action. The possibility is certainly plausible. (At the very least, we will use that to partially explain how Columbia had a 35-19 edge in rebounds.)
It took more than two minutes for either team to score in the second half. (For Penn fans, it was probably an ominous sign that the Quakers turned it over three times in that span, matching their turnover total for the entire first half.) Then Columbia's Noruwa Agho stared down a Penn defender before draining a three-pointer in front of his own bench. After Asenso Ampim knocked down two free throws, Agho did it again. And a third time, this one inside the arc. Just like that, Columbia was up 45-35, and the Lions would never trail again.
That lead peaked at 12 before Penn tried to pull another comeback out of its hat. A 5-0 run midway through the period got the deficit to six, at 49-43, and then after the teams traded baskets Rob Belcore answered a Columbia bucket with a three-pointer. That made the score 53-48 with 8:47 to play.
A Meiko Lyles layup was matched by a pair of Jack Eggleston free throws, and then after a Columbia turnover Eggleston hit a jumper and the Quakers were within three, at 55-52. Brian Barbour got the lead back to five for the Lions with two foul shots, and then - after both teams had a few empty possessions - Agho got back to doing what he does best. He drained yet another trey, once again in the face of a Penn defender, and then after Eggleston missed the front end of a 1-and-1 Agho put home another bucket.
Just like that, the lead was back to 10 (62-52), there was less than five minutes on the clock, and you felt like Columbia had weathered the storm. It was still a 10-point game with about two minutes left, but Columbia scored seven of the next eight points and that was that.
Penn kept things even through much of the first half, led predominantly by freshman Cameron Gunter who was a complete revelation. The freshman entered the contest having not scored a collegiate point; he had 10 by halftime, en route to 12 for the night. The points came in all varieties - on the block, mid-range jumpers, at the foul line, and finally a thunderous slam to close out Penn's scoring in the half.
How even was the first half? Neither team held more than a six-point lead, and there were eight ties and 10 lead changes.
Eggleston finished with 16 points to lead Penn, while Zack Rosen matched Gunter with 12 points. Rosen also had seven assists.
Agho ended the night with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. Ampim had 15 points and nine boards, while Barbour finished with 14.
After a much-needed break and a chance to catch its breath, Penn is back on the road next weekend. The Quakers will be at Brown Friday night and Yale Saturday night. Both games will start at 7 p.m.
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Postgame Notes: For the first time in four games, Penn did not go to overtime ... Penn fell to 1-1 this season in games when it was tied at the half ... Penn took just 43 field goals, its second-lowest total this season, and set a season low with 11 three-point attempts ... Penn had an assist/turnover ratio above 1.00 (12/11) for the sixth time in the last seven games ... Senior Jack Eggleston led Penn with 16 points, the fourth time in six games and the sixth time this season he has led the team in that category in a game ... Eggleston now has 15 double-figure scoring games this season, and 58 in his career ... Eggleston also led Penn with four rebounds, the 19th time in 21 games he has led the Quakers in that category ... Junior Zack Rosen had 12 points, his team-leading 17th double-figure scoring game in 2010-11 ... Rosen also had seven assists, his 10th straight game with five or more assists ... Freshman Cameron Gunter scored his first collegiate points; in fact, he had 12 ... Gunter also set season/career highs with three rebounds and 24 minutes ... Freshman Steve Rennard hit a three-pointer at the end of the game for his first collegiate points ... Senior Tyler Bernardini scored five points, giving him 968 for his career ... Bernardini also tied a career high with four steals.