Brown and Columbia make a move toward the other “final four”

With the first-ever Ivy League Postseason Tournament, the regular season has focused on which teams would make it into the top four.  In the preseason and the first two months of the campaign, Princeton, Yale and Harvard appeared certain to get to the Palestra for the second week of March.  The first two weekends of conference play has confirmed those ideas.  For most of the nonconference season, Penn seemed to take control of that fourth spot.  While losing to Princeton at Jadwin Gym on the opening night of the league schedule, the Quakers showed enough on the offensive and defensive sides to justify those predictions.  However, the Quakers’ two home losses this weekend showed that their path to the Palestra is uncertain and opened the fourth spot for all five lower division squads.  After Saturday’s action in Philadelphia and Ithaca, Brown and Columbia took strong steps towards claiming the last spot in the top tier.

Brown entered Ivy League play with a 9-7 record, tying a school record for most nonconference wins.  One of the knocks with the team’s record was that it came against one of the weakest slates in Division I.  Prior to visiting the “Ps” this weekend, the Bears had not played a top 150 team since its 38-point loss to Providence on December 6Friday’s game against Princeton showed a similar result, with the Tigers blowing out Brown by 31 points.  Heading down to 33rd Street for Saturday night’s matchup, the Bears were a 10-12 point underdog with a 14.4 percent chance of winning the contest.  Brown ignored the previous night’s performance and the odds to defeat Penn, 82-70.

The undersized Bears gave up 16 inside points to Matt Howard and A.J. Brodeur in the first 7:30 minutes of the game.  Brown regrouped defensively and held Howard to only three more points the rest of the half, while keeping Brodeur scoreless.  Over the next 8:15, Brown went from down three to up eleven.  Darnell Foreman kept Penn in the game by scoring the team’s last seven points over the last 3:43 to reduce the Bears halftime lead to five.  The Bears opened up a 10-point lead with 12 minutes to go, before the Quakers brought it down to 60-58 with 8:23 remaining.  With the lead still two with 7:43 to go, Brown outscored Penn 20-10 the rest of the way.  The Bears went 5-for-6 from two, 1-for-1 from three and 7-for-8 from the foul line, while pocketing four steals.  The Quakers, however, went 3-for-6 from two, 0-for-5 from three and 4-for-5 from the foul line, while posting no steals.

Brown had four starters in double figures, with first-year standout Brandon Anderson leading the way with 21 points, Steven Spieth 20, Obi Okolie 14 and Tavon Blackmon 12.  As a team, the undersized Bears outrebounded Penn, 32-29.  In keeping with their strength as one of the nation’s leading free throw teams, the Bears got to the line 26 times and hit 24.  Despite enjoying 20 points from Howard, 19 from Foreman, and 12 from Brodeur (as well as nine rebounds), the Quakers shot 4-for-19 (21.1 percent) from three.

Earlier in the day, Columbia visited Cornell as a one-point underdog.  The Lions had a 37-32 lead at the half on the strength of 26 points from Luke Petrasek, Mike Smith and Nate Hickman.  With Cornell and Ivy League leading scorer Matt Morgan taking no shots and Robert Hatter scoring only three points, the Red stayed in the game courtesy of Stone Gettings’ 12 points and nine from Jack Gordon.  The seldom-used shooting guard hit three three-pointers in a two-minute span.

Cornell opened up the second half on a 11-2 run, in the first two minutes, to take a six-point lead.  About a minute and a half later, Hatter drove the lane and collided with Jeff Coby, injuring his right knee.  After hitting one of two free throws, Hatter limped off the court and was done for the day with a knee injury.  The Lions took advantage of the situation by going on a 17-4 run, to take a 59-50 lead with just over nine minutes to go.  On the strength of 13 points from Morgan and Josh Warren in the next three minutes, the game was knotted up at 63.

Columbia took charge and opened up a six-point lead, 75-69, with 1:15 remaining.  With a 75-72 lead, Smith was sent to the line, but the high percentage shooter surprisingly missed two.   After Morgan hit two free throws, Cornell was only down one, 75-74, with 0:28 to go.  Cornell coach Brian Earl put in Desmond Fleming in for the first time all game, and the defensive replacement was able to knock the ball loose from Hickman.  The Red got the ball back down with 0:18 left.  Following an inbounds and timeout, Cornell had one last chance with eight seconds left.  Troy Whiteside took the inbounds pass and lost control of his dribble to Rodney Hunter.  A series of foul shots over the next few seconds closed out the victory for Columbia.

For the Lions, Petrasek enjoyed a career high of 31 points and six rebounds, Smith had 17 points and five assists, while Hickman notched 15 points.  Cornell ended up 45 percent from three (14-31) with Morgan and Gettings leading the way with 14 points, while Gordon had 13 and Warren put in 11.

After the first two weeks of conference play, wins against Princeton, Yale and Harvard are going to be hard to come by for the other five teams.  As such, those lower teams need to secure as many victories as possible against each other.  With road wins being hard to come by in general, Saturday’s wins by Brown and Columbia are big in starting to create separation over Penn, Cornell and Dartmouth.

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