PHILADELPHIA - The Penn men's basketball team entered Friday night's game knowing that its 24-game Ivy League home winning streak was in peril this weekend, with a pair of Ivy upper-division teams coming to The Palestra in Brown and Yale.
The experienced Bears were indeed the ones who snapped the run, using quick starts in both halves Friday night and holding on against a fiery Quaker comeback to win, 66-61. It was Penn's first loss to an Ivy opponent at The Palestra since March 9, 2004 (a 76-70 overtime loss to Princeton).
With the victory, Brown remains the only team in the Ivy League within two games of front-runner Cornell, at 5-2. Penn, which entered the night with two league losses, dropped to 3-3 in Ivy play and 8-15 overall.
Though Penn's streak came to an end, it did not go quietly. The Quakers were down 63-54 with less than a minute to play, but Harrison Gaines hit a three-pointer with 44 seconds to play. Penn fouled Brown's Scott Friske, who hit one of two, but Brian Grandieri knocked down another trey -- giving him 20 points for the night -- to make it 64-60 with 21 ticks on the clock.
Penn again fouled, this time Mark McAndrew, and the first-team All-Ivy guard from a year ago again only hit one of two. Down five, the Quakers quickly got the ball down the floor, and senior Michael Kach was fouled with 13 seconds left as he took a three-point shot. At the line for three, and the chance to cut Brown's lead to two points, Kach made the first but then missed the next two. The Bears' Friske got the rebound, hit one of his two foul shots, and that sealed the scoring for the night.
While Penn made a game of it down the stretch, this contest was decided in the opening minutes of both halves.
In the opening stanza, the Quakers missed their first seven shots and did not get on the board until nearly four minutes had passed. By that time, the Bears had scored seven points, and before the game was five minutes old Brown was up by double digits, at 12-2.
The lead crested at 14 on a pair of occasions, before Penn made its first comeback of the night. Down, 27-13, the Quakers scored 16 of the last 19 points before halftime, and went into the break down just 30-29. Given that Penn would start the second half with the ball, the Palestra crowd of 3,642 was vocal in its encouragement as the teams went to the locker rooms.
It did not last long. Penn turned it over to start the second half, and Brown converted it into two points. Another turnover on the Quakers' next possession became two more Bear points, and the trend was in motion.
Brown ended up hitting its first 10 field-goal attempts of the second half, the impetus of a 23-11 run to start the stanza and push the Bears to a 53-40 lead.
Just as quickly as the Bears went hot, though, so did they go cold -- from the 13-minute mark on, they hit only field goal the rest of the way, yet still managed to gain the victory.
Penn's cold start in both halves was overcome by some sharp shooting, particularly beyond the arc -- the Quakers were 9-of-17 on three-pointers for the night, with four different players hitting two apiece. Overall, Penn shot 25-of-53 from the field (47.2 percent).
The Quakers were led by Grandieri, who scored 20 points and snared six rebounds. The senior captain was particularly bullish in the second half, scoring 18 points as he single-handedly tried to keep Penn's Ivy home win streak alive (this was the senior's first Ivy loss at The Palestra). Junior Kevin Egee was the only other player in double figures for the Quakers; he matched the career high he set three nights ago vs. Princeton with 15 points.
Freshman Tyler Bernardini, who is Penn's leading scorer but had missed the previous three games after suffering a concussion in practice, returned to the starting lineup and had six points in 27 minutes before fouling out.
for Brown, McAndrew finished the game with 20 points and six rebounds, while Damon Huffman had 19 points, five boards and seven steals. The Bears' third guard, Chris Skrelja, had nine points but grabbed five rebounds and dished out eight assists.
Penn is back in action Saturday night, hosting Yale at 6 p.m. at The Palestra. That game will be televised live on ESPN Classic.