Columbia men fall to Penn in disappointing close to back-to-back homestand

Live by the pull-up jumper, die by the pull-up jumper.

Columbia lost the second game of back-to-back homestand to Penn, 72-70, a hard-fought contest that had both coaches praising the grit of the Ivy League.

Gabe Stefanini scored 27 points on a variety of jump shots and remarkable finishes, but clanked a last-second attempt to tie off the iron, leaving Columbia winless in back-to-back losses to Princeton and Penn. Quinton Adlesh added 15 points and shot 5-for-5 in the second half.

In a Levien Gym packed by plenty of Penn patriots, Columbia limited AJ Brodeur in the first half but couldn’t win enough of the small battles to eke out a victory. One night after a disappointing 55-43 loss to Princeton, Columbia looked energized, but Penn rebounded from their own disappointing loss at Cornell to earn their first Ivy League victory.

“The league is as good one-to-eight as any I’ve ever seen,” said Penn coach Steve Donahue. With Penn having fallen to Cornell one night before, Columbia envisaged finishing the weekend 2-2 in conference play, but the enough went wrong to preclude a return to .500 for the Lions.

The Stefanini-Ike Nweke pick-and-roll created opportunities in the first half, but slowed in the second half as Penn switched with more success. Stefanini’s last shot concluded with three defenders on him: Nweke diverted Devon Goodman, the initial defender, on a pick, and a rotating Antonio Woods along the baseline aided Brodeur’s verticality as Stefanini rose for the game-tying shot. Columbia flashed potential with several Spain pick-and-roll, but the offense reverted too often to pull-ups by Stefanini and Adlesh.

“Stefanini is a hell of player,” Goodman said after the game. The sophomore shot 12-for-20 from the field and often willed the ball in, either on pull-ups or on contortionist finishes.

His play carried Columbia to the dying moments, but the Lions were stretched to their full capacity in depending Penn’s AJ Brodeur. The junior finished with 24 points, including 8-for-10 on free throws, and diversified his offensive game in the second half to attack Columbia not only in the low post but on drives from the perimeter.

“I thought our guys fought hard,” said Columbia coach Jim Engles. “Brodeur is one of the best players in this league.”

The Penn star certainly lived up to his billing, with Columbia’s various defenders ultimately proving overmatched. Patrick Tape, who presented the best defensive counter, fouled out late, and Ike Nweke and Randy Brumant played well but were obviously outmatched.

Nweke was the lone Columbia player besides the two scoring guards to take more than three shots, finishing with nine points on 4-for-7 from the field with no free throw attempts. The Lions shot just 3-for-6 from the line, in stark contrast to Penn’s 21-for-27 outing.

Penn led 32-31 at the half, responding to an early 10-0 run with a 12-0 run of its own. Columbia held Penn to 36 percent from the field in the first half, and just 17.6 percent from beyond the arc, but enabled Penn to stay in the game with 11-for-12 free throw shooting. But Penn was unlikely to stay cold for long, and shot 66 percent from the field in the second half to pull out the victory.

The Lions head to Harvard and Dartmouth for their first road back-to-back of conference play. With Columbia now 1-3 in conference play, they team needs a positive result to stay in a competitive hunt. As Donahue said, any team can beat any other team on any given night.

Columbia can make that true by getting just a little more out of its pull-up jumpers.

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