Somehow, it happened again.
Penn men’s basketball, which gave up a six-point lead in the final 75 seconds of regulation en route to an overtime loss against Harvard last Saturday, held a five-point advantage over Columbia with about the same amount of the time left in overtime on Friday.
But this time, there was no way the Quakers would lose. For one, Columbia is no Harvard, as the Lions came into the night in the cellar of the Ivy League with their season pretty much over.
More importantly, it seemed like the Red and Blue were out to avenge their loss from last week. Penn rallied back from an eight-point deficit late in regulation and wouldn’t have even needed extra time if a layup from senior forward Max Rothschild with three seconds left wasn’t negated by a shot clock violation.
But somehow, someway, the Quakers ended up with another loss. The five-point lead was cut to two with an open Columbia three, the two-point lead became a tie with a turnover and a fast break, and the tie was broken by a layup with only 0.4 seconds remaining.
It doesn’t make much sense that a group that won the Ancient Eight with a 12-2 record last year and beat Villanova, Temple, and Miami (Fla.) this season has a 3-6 Ivy League record and just lost at home to possibly the worst team in the conference. But that’s what can happen when a team struggles to close games out in the final minutes.
Even though the Quakers haven’t played their best in Ivy League play, they could easily have just one or two losses at this point in the season. In addition to their last two overtime defeats, the Red and Blue also fell to Princeton in extra time to begin the Ivy season when they struggled on offense in the final minutes. Against Cornell, Penn held a lead with less than two and a half minutes to go before the Big Red pulled away with a 10-0 run to finish the game.
The Quakers even had a chance to win a road contest at Yale, the best team in the Ancient Eight so far this season, when they pulled within three points late in the second half. However, Penn lost its mojo late against the Bulldogs as well, eventually falling by a score of 78-65 in a game that really could have been much closer than that.
All of those tight losses are extremely disappointing, of course, but they also show that the Red and Blue can hang with any team in the Ivy League. Penn hasn’t been blown out by any of its conference opponents this season, and a variety of different players have contributed significantly to their efforts.
In some games, junior forward AJ Brodeur has been dominant, and in others, guards Antonio Woods and Devon Goodman have led the team. Freshmen Bryce Washington and Michael Wang have been productive in several contests, and even Ray Jerome and Jake Silpe, who have started in a combined three games all season, combined for 25 points against Columbia.
So yes, the Quakers can compete with anyone, but that doesn’t matter if they aren’t able to finish games in crunch time. In sixth place in the Ancient Eight, the Red and Blue have their backs firmly against the wall if they are to climb into the top four and reach the Ivy League Tournament. They will need to go 4-1 or maybe even 5-0 in their final five games to have a chance to make it there, and they certainly can’t afford any more late mishaps.
The Quakers have the talent to do that, but right now their odds are looking pretty slim.