Penn’s mission over the weekend was simple — punch the first ticket to this year’s NCAA tournament. After a 66-49 win over the Red at Newman Arena on Friday night, that goal was almost fulfilled, as it earned the Quakers (17-8, 10-1 Ivy) at least a share of the Ivy title. On Saturday night, Penn sealed the deal with an 80-72 win at Columbia, giving the team its fifth Ivy title in the last seven years.
The loss dropped the Red into a second-place tie with Dartmouth and Harvard, as all three squads had identical 6-5 records in league play after Friday night’s games.
The Quakers came out on fire Friday night, opening up a 13-4 lead in the first six minutes, which was capped by a 3-pointer from guard David Whitehurst. Whitehurst was starting in place of Eric Osmundson because, according to Quaker head coach Fran Dunphy, Osmundson had a “horrendous week of practice.”
Nevertheless, Penn’s defense stifled the Red early in the game, allowing just three field goals in the first nine minutes of the half.
“We weren’t moving that well on offense and then we weren’t hitting shots,” said sophomore Andrew Naeve. “And when you are playing bad defense like we were, sometimes it leads to playing bad on offense and you just can’t get into a rhythm.”
The last of those field goals was a bucket by junior Lenny Collins that stopped the Quaker run to open the game. After that the Red battled back, outscoring Penn 18-10, to bring the game to within a point at the 5:57 mark.
But the Quakers began implementing a full-court press and the Red started to falter. Penn forced the Red to shoot just 1-of-6 and commit three turnovers, on its way to a 10-3 run to close out the half. According to Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, not having sophomore Graham Dow, who is out for the season due to a hernia, was a big deterrent in trying to break the Quaker press.
“Unfortunately Graham has been the kind of guy we just relied on in that sense,” Donahue said. “We struggled not necessarily getting it over [the half-court line against the press], but getting into something once we got it over. Guys weren’t as confident and I thought that took us out of what we were doing.”
In the second half, the Quakers used eight Red turnovers to open up leads of 20 points just before the midway point, and 22 points with a minute and a half remaining in the game. “I thought we defended very well in the first segment of the second half, and we got some easy baskets because of our defense,” Dunphy said. “Certainly the defense was the key tonight.”
The second half was also marred by poor shooting by the Red, as it went 9-for-26 in the final 20 minutes, and closed the game at just over 35 percent.
The lone player in double figures for the Red was Naeve, who tallied a career-high 10 points, as he was 3-of-6 from the field and sunk all four free-throw attempts. Naeve also added six rebounds, two assists, two blocks, and a steal in 18 minutes.
The Quakers had three players score in double figures, as forwards Steve Danley and Mark Zoller both notched 10 points, while guard Ibrahim Jaaber had a game-high 14 points and five steals.
“Today, we felt like we watched a lot of film — the same film over and over again — so we saw what we did wrong and we wanted to make [our game] better, especially coming off a loss,” Jaaber said. “We felt like they would be pumped up, thinking that they could beat us, being that they were the home team.”
Jaaber, the league-leader in steals at 2.74 per game, also tallied two blocked shots and six rebounds. As a team, Penn shot 50 percent from the floor, and out-rebounded the Red, 36-30.
Two of the main contributors to those statistics were guard Tim Begley and Jan Fikiel. Begley, the Ivy League leader in assists, tallied seven helpers and rebounds to go along with his seven points on 3-of-6 shooting. Fikiel came off the bench for the Quakers, and contributed eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, seven rebounds, and a blocked shot in 22 minutes.
Next weekend, Cornell will travel to Yale and Brown for its final contests of the season. Penn will host Dartmouth and Harvard before traveling to Princeton on March 8 for its final tune-up before the NCAA tournament.
Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Assistant Sports Editor