NEW YORK, N.Y. - On Friday night, the Penn men’s basketball team used a swarming defense in the second half to pull away from Cornell and win its Ivy League opener.
On Saturday night, against a Columbia team that was fresh off a win over Princeton from the night before, the Quakers used that same stellar defense in both halves to defuse the Lions. The result was a 69-43 romp at Levien Gym that left Penn (9-6, 2-0 Ivy) as one of just two unbeaten teams in the Ivy League after the first weekend (along with Yale).
This weekend’s trip to Cornell and Columbia generally regarded as the toughest in the league, given the distance between the schools marked just the second time Penn has made the trip to start the League season. And like the 1999-2000 team, the Quakers came out of it with the sweep (that 1999-2000 team finished 14-0 and won the Ivy title). In fact, Penn's combined 44-point margin of victory on the weekend was its largest in a road weekend since February 4-5, 2000 (that weekend, the Quakers won at Yale, 61-36, and at Brown, 83-48, a combined margin of 60 points).
Penn held Columbia (10-6, 1-1) to just 27.3-percent shooting from the field (15-of-55), and allowed the Lions to shoot just 12 three-pointers (they made only two). At the other end, the Quakers shot 47.9 percent from the field (27-of-49), and drained eight of their 18 trey attempts.
The 26-point victory was Penn's biggest in an Ivy League road game since February 14, 2004 (a 79-52 win at Cornell), and it marked the fewest points the Quakers allowed in an Ivy League road game since February 8, 2003 (a 47-40 win over Columbia).
Ibrahim Jaaber led the way for Penn with 17 points, one of three Quaker players to reach double figures in scoring on the night. Brian Grandieri responded with his second-straight great performance, scoring 14 points and snaring eight rebounds. And Mark Zoller nearly collected a double-double with 11 points and nine boards; he also had four assists.
Penn’s stellar defensive performance from the second half of Friday night’s win at Cornell continued into the first half of the game Saturday night. In fact, if not for Justin Armstrong and Ben Nwachukwu, this game would have been over a lot sooner than it was. They scored all but six of Columbia’s 23 points in the opening stanza.
Penn’s defense in the final nine minutes of the half, in particular, stood out. The Quakers held the Lions to just four points on an Armstrong field goal and two Nwachukwu foul shots while stretching a 24-19 lead to a 37-23 advantage by halftime.
At the other end, Penn continued to balance its attack as six different players scored. However, Jaaber who had just seven points in Friday’s win came up with 11 in the opening period, while Grandieri scored 10 points as he hit all four of his shots. The punctuation came at the end of the half, when he lofted a 40-footer at the buzzer that swished through the basket, touching off a wild celebration on the Penn bench.
Any idea of Columbia getting back into the game in the second half was quickly dispelled. Zoller shook free for a layup, Jaaber hit a jumper, and then Zoller put back a layin off a Kevin Egee miss to push Penn’s lead to 20 points (43-23). The Lions never got closer than 16 after that.
Nwachukwu led Columbia with 15 points on the night and also had nine rebounds, while John Baumann came on strong in the second half to finish with 10 points and 11 boards.
Penn moves out of Ivy League play for its next three games, instead diving into Philadelphia Big 5 action starting Thursday at La Salle. The Quakers will then meet Temple at home (Jan. 24) and Saint Joseph’s at The Palestra (Jan. 27).