Penn women hold on against upstart Lions, 72-60

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, N.Y. – The final score may have shown a 12-point difference, but Saturday night’s contest between Penn and Columbia was a battle that wasn’t decided until the final minute, resulting in a 72-60 victory for the visitors.

On Friday night, the Penn women (13-3, 3-0 Ivy) played the second game of the double-header with Cornell since the men’s game was played at 5 p.m. to fit into ESPNU’s national schedule.  With the 7:45 p.m. start in Ithaca, the team did not arrive in New York City until 2:30 a.m.  As a result, the team skipped their usual shootaround in preparation for its 5:30 p.m. Saturday night contest against Columbia (5-12, 1-3).

“Saturday to me is all about heart and guts. Who is ready to come and play?” Columbia coach Megan Griffith said.

“I thought we started the game great,” Penn head coach Mike McLaughlin said.  “We got pushed hard in the second quarter, they outplayed us.”

The Quakers shot 53 percent over the first ten minutes, including 38 percent from three, and a 12-0 run to open up a 19-7 lead.  The Lions turned the tables in the second quarter, making five of seven three-pointers, hitting 58 percent of their shots and going on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 31-28 at halftime.

Penn, which was having trouble getting the ball inside, was forced to take a majority of their shots from beyond the arc.  The visitors were successful in three of their first four from downtown but only converted two of their next 14. Columbia, meanwhile, ended the half, shooting 46 percent from three. The Quakers were able to hold onto a slim lead due to a 25 percent rebounding and 6-1 second chance points advantage.

“I think we outplayed them at the beginning of the third quarter,” McLaughlin said. “And they outplayed us at the end of the third.”

The Red & Blue started on a 12-6 run over the first four minutes of the second half, thanks to hitting five of their first seven shots. Eleah Parker, who only had four points in the first 20 minutes, was able to double her output, while Phoebe Sterba and Ashley Russell hit threes.  Over the next five minutes, the Lions went on a 12-3 run as they hit five of their next seven shots and Penn missed four straight three-pointers. When Madison Hardy hit her second long ball of the period, and fourth of the game, the match was tied at 46 with 52 seconds left in the third.  Princess Aghayere hit a layup on the next possessions, giving the Quakers a 48-46 lead after 30 minutes.

Admitted McLaughlin, “So, we’re sitting there starting the fourth in a dogfight.”

When asked to describe their game plan for the latter part of the game, Griffith responded, “The goal was to let it fly, but to let it fly the way that we wanted to dictate it.”

Sienna Durr hit a three, 30 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Lions their first lead of the night, 49-48.  Phoebe Sterba came right back to sink a trey to put the Quakers back up by two, but Durr would score the next five points to leave Columbia down one with seven minutes left in regulation.

With Penn holding a 60-58 lead at the 3:30 mark, Parker hit a left baseline jumper just inside the three point line with five seconds on the shot clock.  Following a quick failed three from Hardy, Michae Jones fed Aghayere for a right side layup to make it 64-58.  With two minutes to go, Durr was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound off of another Hardy missed three and hit both shots to cut the Penn lead to four.

The Lions forced a shot clock violation, getting the ball back with 90 seconds left.  With just over a minute to go, Riley Casey forced a pass inside and turned the ball over, the team’s 18th on the night.  The Quakers, which entered the game shooting 61 percent from the line, were then sent to the charity stripe 10 times over the game’s last minute.  Parker, who shoots free throws at a 55 percent rate, went 2-for-4, but Jones and Russell went a combined 6-for-6 to seal the win.

On the evening, Penn shot 44 percent overall with 55 percent from two and 29 percent from three.  Most importantly, the visitors hit 75 percent (9-for-12) from the free throw line.  The Quakers, one of the nation’s top defenses, had held their opponents to 33 percent shooting with 36 percent from two and 27 percent from three.  The Lions exceeded those numbers, hitting 42 percent overall, 46 percent from two and 40 percent from beyond the arc.

The Quakers had four players in double-figures with Russell scoring 16, Parker adding 13, Sterba putting up 12 and Aghayere with 11.  Parker and Aghayere each had eight rebounds, while Russell had seven assists and five steals.  For the Lions, Durr finished with 18 points and Hardy scored 16 on a combined 13-for-25 (52 percent).  Riley Casey and Janiya Clemmons each had 10 points, but shot a combined 7-for-20 (35 percent).

Penn did end with a +3 and +7 percent advantage on the glass, but that number was cut significantly in the second half.  The Red & Blue also finished the night with eight more points in the paint and seven more points off turnovers.

“We had them exactly where we wanted, we had them frazzled, but we just made mistakes at the end of the game,” Griffith said.

“We gathered a lot of experience (in our nonconference schedule) over time,” McLaughlin said. “I think experience, in the end, absolutely carried us.”

The young Lions were swept by the league’s most successful programs this weekend, but their coach felt they responded well.

“To play Penn and Princeton back-to-back, when your average age is 19 and do well in both games.  I’ll say that we’re in a good spot right now,” Griffith said.  “In terms of mentally being mature enough to handle two different scouts, I though they did a good job knowing the difference between the two teams.”

Penn, meanwhile, escapes the travel and competitive challenges of the Empire State weekend with two wins, an undefeated Ivy record and a half game lead over Harvard and Yale.

Penn has now won 15 straight against Columbia.

The Lions will welcome Harvard and Dartmouth to Levien Gymnasium next weekend, while the Quakers will host Brown and Yale.

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