NEW YORK - Penn sophomore guard Tony Hicks took the wrong kind of shot Friday night at Levien Gym.
After being called for a defensive foul near midcourt with 7:53 to go and the Quakers trailing 64-39, Hicks aimed a punch with his right hand at Columbia junior guard Meiko Lyles, hitting Lyles’ jaw. Hicks was subsequently ejected from the game after already having spent much of the second half sitting on the bench with his head in his jersey. A frustrating game in a frustrating season had taken its toll.
Penn only faded further from there, falling to the Lions at Levien Gym, 74-55. Senior forward Fran Dougherty’s 16 points and seven rebounds paced the Quakers (7-19, 4-8 Ivy), but he was ultimately upstaged by Columbia junior forward Alex Rosenberg, whose 22 points and five boards set the tone for the Lions (19-11, 8-5). The loss marks the Quakers’ third straight and their seventh loss of the season by 17 points or more.
“I should have spotted it earlier,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said about Hicks’ boiling point. “I just told him, ‘When you face adversity, you gotta be mature. You’re 40-plus games into your college career, there are some things where you just gotta take a deep breath and say, ‘I gotta stay focused.’ And unfortunately, that didn’t happen.’”
Hicks and Lyles were awarded a double technical and then upon further review, Hicks’ foul was upgraded to a “flagrant two” foul, resulting in Hicks’ ejection and Columbia being awarded a free throw and the ball. Because of the nature of Hicks' ejection, by NCAA rule he must sit out Penn's next game at Cornell Saturday night.
“I didn’t actually see it,” Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. “Meiko was like, ‘He punched me in the face.’ I said, ‘I’m gonna check, I’m gonna burn a timeout, are you sure?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’”
Sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry and junior forward Henry Brooks were benched to start the game, with Brooks and Nelson-Henry not entering the game until the 10:18 and 8:42 marks of the first half respectively. As a result, freshman forward Dylan Jones made his first career start. Penn coach Jerome Allen indicated that Nelson-Henry and Brooks’ delayed starts were a form of discipline but declined to say what prompted the punishment.
Meanwhile, Penn's offense became the Fran Dougherty show, but it wasn’t nearly enough. By the final media timeout of the first half, the Penn senior forward was 5-for-9 from the field, consistently beating Columbia inside and fighting for tough rebounds in the paint.
But Dougherty’s fellow teammates went 0-for-11 from the field while the Lions drained six of 10 three-point attempts in the same time span, and before the half was even over, the game’s all too familiar bottom line had been established - the Quakers’ opponent was hot, but they were not.
“I thought [Dougherty] pretty much had his way inside the paint against those guys. Sometimes you’ve gotta trust the system,” Allen said. “If it’s not going for you, you can’t shoot till you get it going. You’ve gotta be strategic and optimize on every possession. Unfortunately, that falls back on me because I didn’t make sure he got more touches in the paint.”
The Lions completed a 25-9 run to start the second half with Lyles’ free throw following Hicks’ ejection. Penn shot just 34.1 percent for the game from the field on 15-for-44 shooting.
“I think the core of the group are not necessarily professional, but they’re focused enough to continue to give effort,” Allen said about the team’s mindset entering the final two games of the season - at Cornell Saturday night and at Princeton Tuesday night.
Penn has yet to score more than 58 points in an Ivy road game this season, and the Quakers haven’t won a road game since Nov. 12, going 1-11 on the road overall. Penn will try to notch an elusive win away from the Palestra Saturday at 7 p.m. at Cornell.