Flegenheimer | Starting to look like a safe bet

· January 14, 2010, 8:05 am   ·  Updated January 14, 2010, 12:00 am

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Brushing past a collection of scantily-clad cocktail waitresses in a Las Vegas casino last month, my father and I stopped to stare down the cyber-wall of sports odds.

Dear old Penn, it seemed, was a 15-point underdog against middling Davidson in Jerome Allen’s first game as coach, and my dear old man wanted in on the action.

“So,” he asked, “what do you think?”

I figured betting on the team I report on would be less than ethical (though, on a related note, I did cross paths with a leathery-looking Pete Rose later that day at Caesar’s Palace).

But being a good Quaker — Penn Quaker, at least, as I assume the Religious Society of Friends frowns on this sort of thing — I felt compelled to nudge my father into Penn’s corner.

“They’ll come out fired up for a new coach,” I told him. “I could see them keeping it close by sheer force of will.”

The result: Davidson by 29.

Sorry, Dad.

For the last two games, however, there has been vindication — if only for my credibility, not my father’s wallet.

In their first contest since finally tasting victory at UMBC, the Quakers proved a worthy sparring partner for a national powerhouse last night, competing with the breathless grit of a group that seems to care about doing its coach proud whenever it takes the court.

“They played harder than us,” Temple head man Fran Dunphy acknowledged. “Their purpose was greater than ours. Their will was greater than ours … I think Jerome has them in that mindset.”

This superior resolve helps explain how the physically-overmatched (and, at times, ice-cold shooting) home squad could hang with an Owls team whose frontcourt tandem of Micheal Eric and Lavoy Allen—standing 6-foot-11 and 6-foot-9, respectively — made Red and Blue big men Jack Eggleston and Conor Turley look like, well, sportswriters.

The Quakers’ lane-swarming defense held Allen, who entered the game averaging a double-double, to just six points and six rebounds.

Less quantifiable but equally significant were the droves of “hustle” plays scattered over the game’s 40 minutes — Turley drawing a charge, Eggleston hitting the deck for a rebound, point guard Zack Rosen semi-miraculously outmuscling the 240-pound Eric for a loose ball.

“It felt like we were all over the place,” Rosen said. “We scrapped, we hustled, we were in the game.”

While Temple may have removed most of the suspense with a late run, the Quakers clearly left an impression on a visiting team whose resume already sparkles with convincing wins over Big 5 foes Villanova and Saint Joseph’s.

“There were stretches where Penn maybe had a little bit more fire,” said Owls’ senior guard Ryan Brooks, who tallied 10 of his game-high 15 points in the second half.

“[As] Coach Dunphy said to us before the game, they have nothing to lose, and they’re gonna come into the game with that mindset … They brought it to us.”

To be sure, it’s an encouraging snapshot from early in the Jerome Allen era: a Penn team playing like it has nothing to lose.

Except, of course, my father’s money.

MATT FLEGENHEIMER is a junior economics major from New York. He can be contacted at dpsports@dailypennsylvanian.com.

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