For those who have not been to a Columbia Basketball game, the experience is slightly maddening. Levien Gymnasium is a high school gym, which in itself, is not the problem. Rather, it is tucked underground between a new engineering building and the outdated student fitness center with little to no lobby or concourse space to be had. Fans funnel into the awkward stairwell entrance from the Morningside Heights campus like cars into the Holland Tunnel. The concessions consist of plastic tables selling overpriced Lays and Pepsi products. The whole experience feels very "Fairway on a Sunday." The Palestra, this is not.
The first half was sluggish and not terribly exciting to watch. The cold, blustery weather outside seemed to affect the shooting touch and energy level of everyone who stepped onto the floor, save Penn's efficient Miles Cartwright. It was a good time to pay attention to peripheral goings on in Levien. The Penn band played Party Rock. My friends and I argued over whether Toni Kukoc, whose son Marin plays for the Quakers, is from Lithuania or Serbia (he's actually from Croatia). The Columbia band played Party Rock. My father sent me a text asking how Alex Rosenberg on Columbia was looking as a player, perhaps sensing that he would need a new favorite Jewish Ivy League ballplayer to root for once Penn point guard Zack Rosen graduated.
The second half was a constant seesaw between Penn and themselves. Each time the Quakers seemed to be ready to pull away--stretching the lead to five, or seven--they would inevitably shoot themselves in the foot with a silly turnover, or foul, or both. To Columbia's credit, junior guard Brian Barbour was outstanding. He outplayed Rosen for three quarters of the game, and would answer every Penn mistake with a runner in the lane, a transition three, or a nifty assist.
At some point, Penn coach Jerome Allen decided to put the game in his star's hands by instructing every possession to end in a Rosen pick and roll. The senior guard, who was deferential and quiet early on, hit some big shots down the stretch pacing the Quakers to what seemed to be an insurmountable nine point lead with ninety seconds to go.
Yet the Quakers, and the refs, would not let the win come easily. Missed foul shots, silly (some would say suspect) fouls, and turnovers let the Lions chip away. Premature celebration gave way to tepid anxiety then full on panic. Despite Tyler Bernadini's four clutch foul shots, Columbia still had the ball down three with a chance to tie. Penn opted to foul. Chris Crockett calmly sank the first and then--in a maneuver much more difficult than it sounds--perfectly executed a miss off the back rim, sending a longer than expected rebound into Barbour's hands. The scrappy guard took one dribble behind the three point line and launched a potential dagger as the buzzer sounded. It was the kind of shot that, when you are playing as well as Barbour was that night, always goes in. This one did not. Penn exhaled for the 66-64 win.
We fled the premises into the chilly Manhattan air, albeit accidentally onto the wrong street thanks to the labyrinthine Levien exits. If was a fitting ending. Much like the Quakers, my friends and I had escaped--barely--from Levien.
PENNSYLVANIA 66, at COLUMBIA 64 01/13/2012
PENNSYLVANIA 8-9 (1-0) -- Z. Rosen 6-13 2-2 15; M. Cartwright 5-6 4-4 16; T. Bernardini 3-7 10-11 16; R. Belcore 1-4 1-3 3; H. Brooks 2-6 1-2 5; S. Rennard 1-1 0-0 3; F. Dougherty 2-2 0-0 4; M. Howlett 2-2 0-2 4; M. Kukoc 0-0 0-0 0; C. Crocker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-41 18-24 66. COLUMBIA 11-6 (0-1) -- B. Barbour 8-16 8-8 25; M. Lyles 4-10 2-2 11; A. Rosenberg 1-4 3-4 5; J. Daniels 0-3 0-0 0; M. Cisco 5-5 2-2 12; S. Egee 2-5 1-1 5; N. Springwater 0-3 0-0 0; C. Crockett 1-2 1-2 4; C. Osetkowski 1-2 0-0 2; B. Staab 0-0 0-0 0; M. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0; D. Kowalski 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-50 17-19 64.
Three-point goals: PENN 4-13 (T. Bernardini 0-3; R. Belcore 0-2; Z. Rosen 1-4; M. Cartwright 2-3; S. Rennard 1-1), COLU 3-19 (C. Crockett 1-2; S. Egee 0-3; B. Barbour 1-3; M. Lyles 1-5; A. Rosenberg 0-2; N. Springwater 0-3; C. Osetkowski 0-1); Rebounds: PENN 23 (R. Belcore 5), COLU 24 (J. Daniels 8); Assists: PENN 11 (Z. Rosen 5), COLU 8 (B. Barbour 6); Total Fouls -- PENN 18, COLU 16; Fouled Out: PENN-None; COLU-None.