Penn’s poor non-conference record in men’s basketball seems to be all but forgotten as the Quakers have cranked out seven consecutive victories in league play. Meanwhile, the stellar start by Columbia has begun to fade in the midst of a four-game losing streak. And perennial favorite Princeton finds itself in unfamiliar digs — the basement of the Ancient Eight.
Penn (14-7, 7-0 Ivy)
Any early inconsistencies for the Quaker basketball squad can be forgiven. The team has been perfect when it counts in the first seven Ivy League matchups, with a dominant 7-0 league mark coupling up with the top overall 14-7 record. The same Penn team that could not win on the road in December and January brutalized Harvard and Dartmouth during its brief visit to New England the weekend of Feb. 4. Senior Tim Begley (21 points, 10 rebounds) keyed an 11-0 run early in the second half to finish off the Crimson 70-54 and followed up his performance the next day by sinking 14, including his 1,000th career point, in a 68-44 demolition of the Big Green at Hanover. Returning back to Philly for Wednesday night, the Quakers found themselves quickly down as their fellow “Killer P” Princeton Tigers came to town. Trailing 34-17 at halftime and 53-39 with 7:35 to go, guard Eric Osmundson sparked an unbelievable rally, at one point sinking seven points in 37 seconds, as the Quakers outscored Princeton 21-3 to send the game to overtime. Penn’s luck kept rolling in its hometown court, the Palestra, as it was never close in OT, and the Quakers eked out the remarkable 70-62 win. Friday’s meeting with Columbia marked a changing of the guard from the early season giant to the current force, with the Quaker squad knocking out a Lions team that committed 27 fouls, 73-66. Begley went six-for-seven from behind the three-point arc to endure an early onslaught from Cornell the next night, and the Quakers rolled to their 10th win in a row, 64-50. Penn steamrolls into Providence Friday night to take on Brown before coming to New Haven Saturday afternoon.
Cornell (10-11, 5-3)
The Big Red lived dangerously two weekends ago, slipping past Brown 76-75 on two Cody Toppert free throws with 3.5 seconds left, taking Yale through two overtimes before finally running away to an 87-82 victory fueled by Lenny Collins’ 11 OT points. In a week of amazing Princeton collapses, Cornell did its part to prolong the Tigers’ nightmare Friday night. After rising to a comfortable nine-point halftime lead, the Tigers could only muster one field-goal attempt in the midst of the Big Red’s 20-0 run early in the second half, and Cornell rolled to a 66-58 victory. Unfortunately, Penn was next on the docket Saturday, and the Big Red’s three-game mini-streak would not survive the evening. An early lead evaporated with 20 Cornell turnovers, and the team lost its 13th straight against the historically dominant Quakers. The squad is on the road this weekend, as it tries to protect its second-place standing against mediocre Harvard and Dartmouth squads.
Harvard (9-12, 4-4)
Like seemingly every other Ivy team in the last two weeks, Harvard underwent a drubbing by Penn, yet the Crimson rolled off the 70-57 setback by scoring victories over Dartmouth and Brown. The league’s best rebounders did what they do best Friday night in Providence, as Brian Cusworth (9.6 RPG) and Matt Stehle (8.3 RPG) pulled down a combined 25 against the Bears. After a 13-7 run to lead off the second half, the Crimson squad strolled to the 64-53 win. The Harvard run came to a halt in a thriller at Payne Whitney Gym Friday night. The game was tied at 41 midway through the second half, then both teams went on subsequent runs that left Harvard with a 53-52 advantage with 2:28 to go. Bulldog Dominick Martin ’06 sunk two from the line with 1:21 to go to give Yale the 54-53 lead. Harvard’s David Giovacchini had a chance to win the game, storming down the court with five seconds left, but his unstable jump shot was blocked by Eric Flato ’08 at the buzzer to nail down the Crimson defeat. Harvard sticks around Cambridge through March as it awaits visits from Cornell and Columbia this weekend.
Columbia (12-9, 3-5)
The slowly disintegrating saga of 2004-2005 Columbia hoops turned into a nosedive during the early days of February, as the Lions succumbed for a fourth straight time Saturday. Columbia, the premier Ivy League performer early in the season, can only hope that tonight’s game against Hofstra can remind the team of its nonleague form that helped the team blast out to the best overall record through January. In the third matchup between the Jones brothers Feb. 4, James Jones’ Bulldogs slapped brother Joe’s hometown Lions 67-57, powered by a late 16-4 run. Brown was an equally rude house guest in Morningside Heights the next night, with league points leader Jason Forte sinking 13 points in the last 12 minutes for the Bears, including the game-winner with 32 seconds to go in the Lions’ 54-52 loss. Columbia took its slumping act on the road this weekend to equally frustrating results. The Lions got stuck in the middle of the seemingly unending Quaker winning streak, becoming Penn’s ninth-straight casualty Friday in a foul-ridden 73-66 loss. The horribly disappointing Princeton squad took equal advantage of Columbia’s foul-related mistakes, as Jones’ technical at the beginning of the second half catalyzed a 9-2 Tiger run, and Princeton never looked back, downing the Lions 63-53. Columbia hopes to stop its spiral towards the league basement Friday night against Harvard.
Dartmouth (6-15, 3-5)
The Big Green have to be somewhat pleased with their 3-5 Ivy League record after such a dreadful start. Despite tough losses to Harvard, Penn and Yale in the first half of February, formerly hapless Dartmouth powered its way against favored Brown and Princeton squads. Mike Lang sunk 16 points in the Big Green’s victory over Princeton Feb. 4, and Tiger defenders watched helplessly as Dartmouth scored 18 of the last 19 overall points to nail down the 50-42 win in Hanover. It was the defense’s turn to shine in the 48-40 win over the Bears in Providence Saturday night, with Green defenders holding Brown without a basket for the first 14:58 of the second half. Even after Brown broke through, the Bears could only muster 15.4 percent (4-for-26) from the field after halftime. Dartmouth, out of the basement in which many figured they were destined to stay, go home to face Columbia and Cornell this weekend.
Brown (9-11, 2-4)
The Bears had a terrible time at home this weekend, getting roughed up by their guests from the north, Harvard and Dartmouth. Jason Forte could only muster 10 points, while the Crimson had four men in double-digits in their easy victory Friday night. Saturday was a showcase of offensive futility against Dartmouth, as the Bears only managed a few points from the free-throw line and absolutely nothing from the field until there was 5:02 left in the game. A 9-0 run was useless in a game that was not really close after halftime, and Brown tumbled once again 48-40. Forte still provided the bright spot for Brown hoops in February, scoring a whopping 36 points in a 76-75 loss to Cornell Feb. 4 and maintaining his commanding lead in overall scoring (17.8 PPG).
Princeton (11-10, 2-5)
Princeton may have seen a light at the end of a long and unexpected tunnel after subduing Columbia Saturday. In a battle between the fading Lions and the seemingly overrated Tigers, junior guard Scott Greenman (8.7 PPG) rose to unexpected levels, leading Princeton with 17 points. Foul-happy Columbia gave the Tigers 40 chances from the line, and they connected on an impressive 31, leading to their eventual 63-53 win. Yet, going into this game, Princeton had been in a slump of historic proportions, with its four-game losing streak adding up to the school’s worst start since 1978. Losses at Dartmouth and Penn four days apart from each other proved most painful, with the Tigers allowing miraculous rallies and blowing double-digit halftime leads in both games. Princeton, favored to win the Ivy League before the season, sits dead last in the standings but hope to turn things around at Yale and Brown this weekend.