NEW YORK The recipe was simple for Penn’s shocking, 59-57 loss at Columbia Friday night.
The Ivy League-leading Quakers (15-7, 7-1 Ivy) were stagnated offensively by an aggressive Lions zone defense, taking just 45 shots. After hitting seven of its first 12 three-point shots, Penn knocked down just one of its last dozen from beyond the arc.
Down the stretch, Penn simply could not score the Quakers did not get a point in the game’s final 4:42.
Penn was again sloppy with the ball, committing 15 turnovers, and was unable to generate as much as normal with its defense, coming up with seven steals (three below its average).
Several Penn players struggled with foul trouble and had a problem getting untracked; as an example, only Ibrahim Jaaber (24 points) hit double figures in the scoring column.
Perhaps the biggest ingredient, though, was that Columbia (9-13, 2-7 Ivy) played as if it wanted this game more. The Lions were the aggressor throughout, especially on the boards where they outrebounded the Quakers, 35-22, and had 12 offensive caroms to Penn’s four.
It was appropriate, then, that Columbia’s Ben Nwachukwu wore the hero’s crown on this night at Levien Gym, when he tipped home a missed shot with just one second left on the clock to complete the stunning result.
The loss cut Penn’s two-game lead in the Ivy League in half, as Princeton was able to escape Cornell with a 76-68, double-overtime victory. The Tigers won despite trailing the Big Red throughout all of regulation and the first overtime, tying both times at the buzzer, before pulling away in the second extra session.
The first time these two teams met, just a little more than a month ago, Penn ran away with a 32-point victory at The Palestra. The Quakers had a few chances to put the Lions away Friday night, too, but Columbia answered every time, and buoyed by a home crowd that grew louder with each passing minute, the Lions appeared to gain strength as they hung around.
As we said, Penn had chances to put this one away. The Quakers were down, 16-10, but went on one of the runs they have seemed to patent this conference season. Penn dialed long distance on four consecutive possessions to regain a 22-18 lead, then drained two more treys after a Brian Grandieri two-pointer. When Ibrahim Jaaber hit a layup off an assist from Eric Osmundson and finished it off with a free throw, Penn’s lead was 33-20 with just more than three minutes left in the half.
Unlike every other Ivy League game this season, Penn could not finish the kill. Instead, four different players got buckets for Columbia, punctuated by you guessed it a putback from Nwachukwu, which sent the teams to the locker room with the Quakers’ lead down to five points, 33-28.
Penn looked like it might pull away again early in the second half, as Mark Zoller converted a pair of layups and then got a conventional three-point play that turned a three-point Penn lead into a 10-point advantage (44-34). Again Columbia responded Justin Armstrong (23 points on the night) sandwiched buckets around a Kashif Sweet jumper, and then John Baumann nailed two free throws that made the score 44-42.
Columbia took a 52-49 lead that Penn came back and knotted again, and then after Brett Loscalzo hit two foul shots Jaaber responded with a trey that gave Penn a 55-54 lead with 5:26 to play. After Armstrong turned it over, Steve Danley got a layup that pushed Penn’s lead to 57-54.
While Penn went scoreless the rest of the way, points were hard to come by for Columbia, too. In fact, more than two minutes went by after Danley’s basket before Baumann was fouled by Brian Grandieri. He made both foul shots, making it a one-point game.
Both teams had two chances to score and failed, then Nwachukwu got to the foul line and made one out of two to tie the game with 51 seconds left. On Penn’s ensuing possession, Zoller was called for an offensive foul his fifth of the game, fouling him out and Columbia got the final possession.
After Nwachukwu’s final bucket, Penn had a desperation chance to tie, but the ball tipped away from a Quaker player and time ran out before a shot could be taken.
Penn will try to put this loss behind it immediately, as the Quakers take on Cornell Saturday night in Ithaca, N.Y. Tipoff is slated for 8:30 p.m., and the game will be televised live on College Sports Television (CSTV).