The Quakers held on to beat Cornell, then had little trouble in a rout of Columbia. The last time the Penn men's basketball team started its Ivy campaign with nine straight wins was in the 1994-95 season. After league wins against Cornell and Columbia this weekend, however, the Quakers (16-7, 9-0) are once again undefeated in the Ivies after nine games for the first time since Hootie and the Blowfish ruled the charts. But it wasn't easy, as the Quakers got off to a somewhat rocky start against Cornell on Friday. The Big Red have given Penn problems the last two times the teams have faced off. Earlier in the season, the Quakers narrowly escaped from Ithaca, N.Y., with a 50-47 victory. Last year at the Palestra, the game also went down to the wire, with Penn eking out an 83-81 victory. Throughout much of Friday's contest it looked as if this game would be just as close as the previous two. "We, for the most part, played one of our better basketball games," Cornell coach Scott Thompson said. "I was pleased with our defense early, but we had a few breakdowns which cost us against a very good basketball team." The Big Red's defense was tenacious throughout much of the game, keeping Penn's front line from scoring on the inside. "They did a pretty good job fronting us, and we got a little stagnant without the ball," Penn center Geoff Owens said. Cornell's defense also contributed to a run in the beginning of the second half when it looked as if the Big Red might take a lead. The period started with Penn in front by nine. A driving layup by Cornell forward Keirian Brown cut the lead to seven. Cornell forward Ray Mercedes hit one-of-two free throws and followed that up with a layup to make it a five-point deficit. A Cornell steal stopped the Quakers from scoring again, and David Muller hit a three-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to two and silence an until-then boisterous crowd. "We're a team of spurts. They can be both positive or negative," Thompson said. "We've gotten it where we can make runs, but we've also been in situations where teams can make runs against us." After a Penn timeout, Cornell faced a Quakers run and could not withstand it. The Red and Blue scored nine out of the next 11 points, highlighted by a David Klatsky-to-Ugonna Onyekwe alley-oop, bringing the Palestra faithful to their feet. The play sparked the Quakers, who rolled from there, eventually winning by the score of 73-63. By the end of the contest, the only player keeping Cornell in the game was Mercedes, who scored a game-high 24 points. Mercedes was a Quakers-killer in last year's game as well, scoring 28. "Mercedes is hard to guard and played a good game for them," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I thought we let him get off a little bit, and that got his confidence going." At times, Mercedes taunted the Penn crowd and tried to feed off their heckling. "Mercedes kept us in the game again this year by hitting some key shots and that really made a difference in the game," Thompson said. While the Quakers got the victory, the entire team knew it could and should have played better. The Red and Blue scoffed at the excuse of a letdown due to last Tuesday's win over archrival Princeton. "Maybe someone might say that you are due for an emotional victory like we had, but if we accept that we're not going to be a very good basketball team down the stretch here," Dunphy said. The Quakers were looking for a better performance against Columbia Saturday night -- and they got one. The Lions were playing without both of their point guards, and the Quakers exploited that by pressing at points throughout the game. "I love watching Dunphy's team play, except against me," Lions coach Armond Hill said. "I thought my guys competed. We had some opportunities for some shots, but we missed them and they came down the court and made a three or an easy layup." The Quakers did take advantage of the Lions' misses by draining 45 percent of their shots from the field in the first half. Penn had a 15-point lead at halftime, due mostly to an 11-0 run early in the half, which was highlighted by threes from Michael Jordan and Frank Brown. "There was a certain feeling at the shoot-around that they knew they had to be better tonight, and they took care of it," Dunphy said. With 8:10 left in the game and the Quakers sporting a 32-point lead, Dunphy emptied the bench, including Chris Ward, a career junior varsity player, who played in his first varsity game on Saturday. With this past weekend's wins, the Quakers still sit atop the Ancient Eight standings. Victories in the next four games would mean another Ivy title. But Penn is not getting ahead of itself and knows there is still room for improvement. As the accolades from opposing players and coaches pile up, the Red and Blue remain grounded and focused on the task at hand. "I think as good as we are defensively, we can be better at that," Dunphy said. "Our interior defense is pretty good, and we're playing well on the perimeter. But, offensively we have to get better with each possession and get more movement."Comments powered by Disqus
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