NEW YORK -- The Columbia women's basketball team used a 19-3 run midway through the second half to pull ahead by 13 points, then held on down the stretch to take home a 61-54 victory over Penn at Levien Gymnasium on Friday evening. Junior Melissa Shafer had an impressive game at both ends of the floor, scoring a team-high 15 points while also helping to hold the Ivy League's leading scorer Alyssa Baron to just six second-half points.
The first half was a nip-and-tuck battle in which neither team could get much going offensively. With the contest tied at 6-6, the Quakers went on a 9-2 run thanks in large part to reserve Courtney Wilson. Wilson hit her first two shots off the bench, extending Penn's lead to 15-8 after an old-fashioned three-point play at the 11:26 mark.
Columbia responded with a 9-0 spurt of its own to regain the lead. First-year Taylor Ward capped the run with a short jumper to give the Lions a 17-15 advantage with 7:01 remaining in the opening period.
Ward would remain hot from the perimeter, and her three-pointer with 2:16 to go in the first half put Columbia on top, 22-21. Baron and fellow first-year Brianna Orlich each connected on two free throws over the final two minutes of the stanza to put the score at 24-23 in favor of the home team heading into the locker room.
A three-ball by Shafer less than five minutes into the second half broke a 30-30 deadlock, and gave the Lions a little bit of momentum. But Penn quickly turned the tides with seven straight points, including four by Jerin Smith. Smith was a menace on the boards during the stretch, hauling in three offensive rebounds in less than three minutes. Her putback bucket at the 12:37 mark gave Penn a 37-33 lead and forced Columbia head coach Paul Nixon to call timeout.
After a bucket by Orlich out of the timeout cut the deficit to two, a change in defenses energized the Lions and befuddled the Quakers at the offensive end. Columbia employed a box-and-one that focused on denying Baron the basketball, and the strategy worked to perfection. Penn connected on just one of its next 11 shots, and turned the ball over four times during a stretch that saw the Lions extend to a 54-41 lead with 5:20 remaining.
The Quakers would not go without a fight, however, and a 13-2 run cut Columbia's lead to just two at 56-54 with 1:53 to go. Three-pointers by Brianna Bradford and Meghan McCullough on back-to-back possessions keyed the spurt.
Faced with another close contest down the stretch, the Lions stepped up to the challenge and made the key plays when they needed to. Shafer hit a big bank shot from 12 feet with 28 seconds left to double the lead, 58-54, and senior Kathleen Barry recorded her third steal of the ball game 10 seconds later to give the ball back to Columbia. Penn was forced to foul and Shafer hit two critical free throws to help seal the win.
Sophomore Tyler Simpson joined Shafer in double figures with 12 points, including 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. Orlich and Ward each added nine points. Baron had a game-high 18 points but shot just 5-of-16 from the field and had six turnovers. Erin Power had 12 rebounds and six assists for the Quakers.
Columbia will close out its home schedule on Saturday, Feb. 26 against Princeton at Levien Gymnasium. A short presentation to honor seniors Kathleen Barry and Lauren Dwyer will take place prior to tipoff, which is scheduled for 7 p.m.
NOTES: Dwyer was honored prior to the game for becoming the ninth player in Columbia history to score over 1,000 points in a career...Shafer also added three steals to tie with Barry for game-high honors...The Lions forced Penn into 21 turnovers while only committing 10...The 10 turnovers were a season-low for Columbia...Penn had a decisive rebounding advantage, 45-29, which included 19 offensive rebounds...Junior Jazmin Fuller got the first start of her career at point guard and finished with two rebounds, two assists and two steals in 16 minutes...Prior to tonight's nine-point outing, Ward was mired in a 7-for-34 (20.5%) slump from the field over her last seven games.