ITHACA, N.Y. -- For much of Saturday night’s men’s basketball game between Penn and Cornell, there was an ominous feeling among Quaker fans that recalled fairly recent history Friday night’s two-point loss at Columbia.
Penn was again struggling against an aggressive zone defense, with only Ibrahim Jaaber seeming to be able to find the basket. The Quakers were careless with the ball, as well, making 18 turnovers on the night.
As a result, Cornell like Penn the victims of a heartbreaking loss Friday night, in double overtime to Princeton hung around in front of a boisterous home crowd. In fact, when the Big Red’s David Lisle knocked down a pair of free throws with 4:45 to play, Penn held just a two-point lead, 53-51.
That is when things changed from the previous night, leading Penn to a 67-56 win. As a result, the Quakers (16-7, 8-1 Ivy) moved back into a two-game lead in the Ivy League, thanks to Princeton’s65-64 loss at Columbia. The Tigers are now 6-3 in the Ivies.
Jaaber finished the game with 29 points, just two shy of his career high, but for the most part he was held in check during the decisive run. However, his teammates picked up the slack. Eric Osmundson missed a three-pointer, but like a veteran came back and knocked down his attempt on Penn’s next possession. A missed Cornell shot was rebounded by Brian Grandieri, who was fouled and hit both foul shots.
After a Cornell (10-14, 5-5 Ivy) turnover, Penn had arguably its most important possession. A missed trey by Osmundson was rebounded by the Quakers, and then Steve Danley missed a foul shot but that was rebounded by Mark Zoller. Eventually Danley was sent back to the line, and this time he was true with both to make the score 60-51.
Jaaber came up with a steal, and as he went in for the layup he was intentionally fouled by Cornell’s Adam Gore. Jaaber made both foul shots, then another one when he was fouled on the Quakers’ ensuing possession. He missed the second shot, but got his own rebound, and then Zoller was fouled and hit both foul shots.
After Zoller’s freebies, Penn’s lead was 65-51, and just 1:13 was left on the clock.
Penn jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half, led by Jaaber who had 16 points in the opening stanza. The lead was seven at half, 35-28, and remained there the first few minutes of the second half before Cornell made a run to get back into it.
Graham Dow started the run with a jumper in the lane, and then Lenny Collins drained a trey that made the score 38-36, Penn. Jaaber responded for the Quakers, knocking down consecutive three-pointers to push the lead back to eight points, but Cornell came back with the next eight points as Collins and Dow sandwiched threes around a pair of Andrew Naeve free throws. That tied the game at 44-44 with 12 minutes to play.
At that point, Grandieri took over for the Quakers. The sophomore hit a jumper and was fouled; after a timeout he made the free throw to complete the conventional three-point play.
Cornell was not done; in fact, the Big Red took its only lead of the half at that point when Ryan Rourke hit two foul shots and Naeve drained a jumper to make the score 48-47. That lead held two minutes, until Jaaber got into the lane and floated in a jumper. A little more than a minute later, Grandieri rebounded a Jaaber trey and laid it in to push Penn’s lead to three points, and then on the Quakers’ next possession Danley rebounded Zoller’s missed trey and scored easily to push the lead to 53-48.
Cornell got three of those points back on foul shots by Naeve and Lisle, but the stage was set for Penn’s final run.
Penn returns home next weekend, taking on Harvard Friday night at Dartmouth Saturday night. Both games are slated for 7 p.m. at The Palestra.