By Fred David
ITHACA, N.Y., Jan. 12 - Last year, Penn's Achilles' heel came in the form of a zone defense.
In the second half on Friday evening, when Cornell switched from a man defense to a zone, the Quakers turned their old weakness into a newfound strength.
Junior guard Brian Grandieri's game-high 18 points, which included 10 in the second half, paced Penn (9-6, 2-0 Ivy) to a 74-56 thumping of Cornell (8-8, 1-1 Ivy) at Newman Arena in the Ivy League opener for both teams.
On a night when senior guard Ibrahim Jaaber struggled to score, going only 2-9 from the floor, it was up to the rest of the team, including Grandieri, to pick up the slack on offense. The junior shot an impressive 9-for-14 from the field while the team put up a 53-percent performance from the floor during the first half.
Last year, both Columbia and Cornell were able to stifle Penn's offense by implementing the zone. In Penn's 59-57 loss to the Lions last February, the Quakers failed to score a single point in the game's final four minutes and 42 seconds. The next night against Cornell, Penn gave up 18 turnovers in an 11-point victory.
Friday night, however, Penn looked ready when Cornell coach Steve Donahue called for his defense to play a 2-3 zone in the second half, using crisp ball movement and hot shooting to help down the Big Red. The Quakers committed just two turnovers after intermission while outscoring their opponents 34-20 in that span.
"We've been working on [playing against the zone] a lot this week," Grandieri said. "Before, we were a little stagnant. This year we're filling a lot of gaps."
Grandieri also spoke of his team's ability to move the ball around the zone as a way of keeping the Big Red off-balance.
"When you pass the ball, we're moving, so it's hard to cover," he said. "From there, we're getting behind the defense a little bit. Everybody's being pretty unselfish and we're getting clean shots at the basket."
The Quakers shared the wealth offensively, with ten different players scoring in the game. Along with Grandieri, senior forward Mark Zoller and sophomore guard Kevin Egee put up double figures with 16 and 10 points, respectively.
"I think we're a pretty unselfish team," Grandieri said. "It doesn't matter if Ibby gets his 20 or Mark gets his 20. I think that's why we continue to have success - if it's not your night and it's someone else's, we understand that."
All 10 of Egee's points came during an 18-4 run that saw Penn extend its lead to 21 points late in the second half. A pair of three-point shots on consecutive possessions by Egee - who has taken on a larger role on the team as of late - put Penn's lead into double digits for good.
In an up-and-down first half, Cornell hung tight, leading by as much as five at one point before going into the half down by four.
However, in the second half, Penn was able to slow down the Big Red's offense while creating 11 turnovers, which helped negate Cornell freshman Ryan Wittman's team-high 16 points.
"We played much better defense in the second half," Quakers coach Glen Miller said. "We were able to keep them out of the lane. They beat us in dribble penetration [with] three-point shots."
But in the second half, the Quakers' newfound strength proved more than enough to start the Ivy season off on the right foot.Comments powered by Disqus
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