NEW YORK – Midway through the second half on Friday, despite having gone down by 11 after halftime, Penn basketball managed to whittle its deficit against Columbia down to a single point.
That’s as close as the Quakers would get.
Although the Red and Blue cut their deficit to 41-40, the Lions put together a backbreaking 11-0 run over a four-minute stretch to destroy any Penn hopes of an upset. Paced by 21 points from senior Maodo Lo and double-digit scoring performances by seniors Alex Rosenberg and Grant Mullins, Columbia (17-7, 6-1 Ivy) clinched its eighth win in its past nine games.
Junior Matt Howard led the Red and Blue with 14 points in the 63-53 loss, while senior center Darien Nelson-Henry put together an 11-point, 11-rebound performance. The Quakers now head north for their final game of the first half of their Ivy slate, a date with coach Steve Donahue’s former Cornell squad on Saturday night.
Heading into Friday’s affair at Levien Gym, Penn (8-12, 2-4) hoped to maintain the momentum from last weekend’s sweep of Dartmouth and Harvard. And given the pace of the first half, that certainly seemed like a possibility.
Having dropped their past two games in the Big Apple by a combined 46 points, the Quakers turned the tide in the opening frame, holding their Light Blue foes in check before the break. While Penn only led for 16 seconds all game, the squad stymied Columbia’s potent offense, limiting the Lions to a 28-24 halftime lead.
The Red and Blue hit only nine shots in the first 20 minutes, the bulk of which came from Howard. The junior from Columbia, S.C., was the game’s leading scorer at the break, as he was the only Penn player to hit multiple baskets before halftime.
But it was the Quakers’ defense that was most impressive over that period, as Penn held Columbia to 38.5 percent shooting.
“I thought both teams really competed. I was proud of our effort in terms of competing,” Donahue said.
The game seemed to slip away from the Red and Blue early in the second half, as a three from Luke Petrasek keyed seven straight Lion points to give Kyle Smith’s group a 35-24 advantage.
Yet the Quakers refused to go away. Thanks to six points apiece from rookies Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe, a 16-6 run got Penn back within a point with 11:30 remaining.
But five straight points from Jeff Coby gave the Lions some breathing room, and Penn’s next basket didn’t come until the squad was already down by 12 with 8:04 to play.
“They bottled us up on offense, we weren’t making any shots at that point,” Howard said. “They started hitting their shots, and that’s where it went wrong.”
“I feel like we missed a lot of easy shots. I missed all of my threes and it just wasn’t our night I guess.”
From there, the teams traded a handful of baskets, but the Quakers failed to get any closer than nine. Even though Penn got within 56-47 with 4:38 left, two baskets from Lo and another from Coby pushed the Columbia lead to 16, sealing the victory.
“For that stretch where they [extended] the lead, I thought we defended well and I thought we competed, but they were the better team for sure,” Donahue said. “The veteran group figured it out during that stretch.
“We need to play that way right now, we need to compete and throw our bodies around. It’s not going to be pretty.”
The Quakers and Big Red will tip off at 6 p.m. from Ithaca.
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