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Sophomore forward Sam Jones has notched 12 points through halftime.

Credit: Ilana Wurman

There’s no place like home.

Penn basketball has been desperately searching for a victory for exactly a month now, losing five straight games on the road with only a brief return to the Palestra in mid-February. But Penn’s best Ivy win so far came back home at Columbia on Friday night.

No, it isn’t a breakthrough of epic proportions. After all, the Lions are 5-8 in conference and need a win on Saturday to finish .500 and quality for postseason play.

The seven-game losing streak the Red and Blue ended on Friday exposed all of Penn’s weaknesses, all at once. Overreliance on Tony Hicks, lack of depth, inability to close out games, overall youth, etc. All of that led to those seven losses that shook the program to its core.

But last weekend at Brown and Yale, the Quakers finally displayed signs of finding their potential. The five-point loss to the Bulldogs, who just clinched at least a share of the Ivy title, was impressive, particularly with the youth on the squad coming together.

And Friday night against Columbia, Penn brought it all together in all facets of its game to end the losing streak. Tony Hicks playing to his potential? 18 points and eight rebounds while having the offense run through him did that. Freshman contribution? Fourteen points, including a dagger three-pointer, from Sam Jones along with seven points and four assists from Antonio Woods did the trick.

“Four out of our last five games, we had opportunities to win,” coach Jerome Allen said. “We won tonight but with that being said, when you’re playing such a young team, they have to learn. They have to grow. They have to mature.

“It’s been great coming down the stretch because they have a lot of potential and I think they’re going to get better. I’m excited to see how it plays out.”

Did the Quakers let the game get out of hand defensively? Quite the opposite. The Red and Blue pitched a near perfect game in the first half, only allowing nine points on 15 percent shooting. It was certainly a far cry from the 83-56 massacre at the hands of the very same Columbia squad on Feb. 7.

“We said it in the locker room, the irony of it is that we held them to 46 [points] for 40 minutes and they had 46 points at halftime the first time we played them,” Allen said.

“It was just a completely different effort. Our competitive effort from the start was what it was supposed to be. They’re a much better team that the first time we faced them and I’d like to think we are coming into our own.”

A win over the Lions is ultimately too little, too late to make Penn basketball’s record and Ivy finish look very respectable. But the win flips the script on the Quakers’ season. For once, it wasn’t the Red and Blue falling behind and scratching to get back in the game or failing to make the game respectable.

Finally, we are watching a basketball team that can holds its own in the Ivy League, one that can leverage its strengths to get ahead and stay ahead.

“[The win] was really important for our confidence,” Hicks said. “It’s a shame that it happened this late in the season but I think it was a great win for us.”

The challenge now for Penn will be to finish the season out strong, with Cornell and Princeton squads coming up that are solid yet beatable. If Penn looks like it did for the last month, a respectable finish simply won’t happen. But tonight gives reason for Quakers fans to hope otherwise.

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