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01132012_Mensbasketball_Columbia Credit: Henry Chang , Henry Chang

NEW YORK — When the Penn basketball team left Levien Gymnasium a year ago after losing to Columbia, the Quakers were at their lowest point of the 2010-11 season.

Battered, bruised and exhausted after dropping three straight overtime games against Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, the Quakers’ 75-62 beatdown at the hands of the Lions effectively eliminated any chance of Penn competing for the Ivy League title.

But on Friday night, the annual New York tilt welcomed a fresher Penn team primed for its brand new Ivy season run, and the Quakers remained unscathed, emerging with a narrow 66-64 victory.

The opening half began sloppily as both teams struggled to find their footing. But despite an uncharacteristically quiet performance by senior Zack Rosen in the first half, Penn (9-9, 2-0 Ivy) managed to hold a lead for much of the period, thanks to penetration by Tyler Bernardini and inside scoring by big men Fran Dougherty and Mike Howlett off the bench.

However, Penn would cough up that lead at the end of the half, after the Quakers’ defense allowed Columbia star guard Brian Barbour to take over offensively.

Barbour made a number of tough leaners, absorbing contact and finishing time and time again for the Lions. Columbia (11-7, 0-2) went on an 8-0 run — six points alone from Barbour — in the first half’s final three minutes to give the Lions a 27-23 lead heading into the break.

“He’s gotten a lot better, he’s a tough guy out there,” Rosen said about his backcourt opponent. “We’ve got to do a better job containing him.”

But Penn countered that Columbia surge with an 8-0 run of its own to start the second half. And it was Penn sophomore Miles Cartwright, not Barbour, doing the damage, converting an and-one layup and a corner three-ball to put Penn up four with 17:32 remaining.

Both teams continued to battle back and forth over the next seven minutes, but the Quakers managed to get some separation around the 10-minute mark, when Rosen appeared to wake up offensively.

The senior captain and sophomore guard Steve Rennard hit back-to-back threes to open up a seven-point lead and a tough, step-back jumper by Rosen made it 49-42, leading to a Columbia timeout.

The game was far from over, however, and Penn nearly let this one slip from its grasp.

After another tough step-back jumper by Rosen later in the half put the Quakers up six, senior Rob Belcore committed a costly foul on the ensuing inbound pass, sending Barbour to the line for two shots with 45 seconds remaining.

Barbour buried both, and then the window of opportunity for the Lions opened even more after Rosen committed an offensive foul. Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg hit two free throws after being fouled by senior Mike Howlett the very next play to cut Penn’s lead to just two.

“We rely heavily on [our seniors] to make sound decisions,” coach Jerome Allen said. “Our lack of poise and composure at that moment in time … it really put us in a predicament.”

The lead would continue to hover around that margin when senior Tyler Bernardini sunk two free throws with five seconds remaining to put Penn up three.

Hoping to avoid a last second, three-point opportunity for Columbia, Penn fouled Chris Crockett. The Lions guard hit the first and missed the second, but the rebound went to Barbour, who launched what would have been a game-winning three-pointer.

A contested look, the fadeaway shot was a bit too strong and went begging.

The Red and Blue drew a collective breath afterward.

“In this league, we’ll take ’em however we can get ’em,” Rosen said.

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