Drama and determination. Big plays. Controversial calls. Emerging stars and veteran leaders. A comeback. A buzzer-beater.
Penn’s thrilling game against Harvard in a packed Palestra Saturday night had absolutely everything you could want in a basketball game — it truly was an instant classic.
In the end, though, it didn’t have the one thing the Quakers wanted: a win.
After Penn came back from an 18-point deficit in the second half, Harvard took a one-point lead with 11.5 seconds left in double overtime when guard Oliver McNally drove past Zack Rosen on the baseline for a floater. With one last chance to steal a ‘W,’ coach Jerome Allen called his point guard’s number, but Rosen ran into a wall of Harvard defenders and tossed up a prayer that was blocked by Kyle Casey to seal the Crimson’s 83-82 victory.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Allen said. “They made one more play than we did, and that’s that.”
The Palestra was near capacity with a full student section and 6,283 officially in attendance. The raucous atmosphere — by many accounts the most electric in years — intensified in double OT when senior co-captain Jack Eggleston opened the scoring with an emphatic fast-break dunk.
“It’s a tough place to play,” McNally said. “[Penn fans] were really into it, especially in the second half.”
Amazingly, Eggleston’s dunk gave Penn (9-9, 3-1 Ivy) its first lead of the game, which it extended to three when freshman guard Miles Cartwright fed a cutting Eggleston for a layup with 1:48 remaining. Harvard cut it to one on free throws by Kyle Casey and regained possession on a controversial jump ball when Brandyn Curry reached in on Rosen and tied him up.
The Crimson (16-4, 5-1) couldn’t capitalize — Christian Webster missed two critical free throws — but Eggleston was off on a long jumper that set up McNally’s game-winner.
Curry’s jump ball was one of a number of controversial calls by the Saturday night referees. At the end of regulation, Curry appeared to be fouled on a buzzer-beating tip attempt. The refs conferred and ultimately concluded that the tip came after the buzzer.
The Quakers erased a 47-29 deficit with 15:43 remaining to get to that point. They tightened up on ‘D’ and forced seven Harvard turnovers in the comeback, which included treys by Eggleston, Rosen and Tyler Bernardini in the final six minutes. Rosen’s trifecta cut the deficit to one with 1:35 left, and Bernardini tied it for the first time all game with 45 seconds to go.
Rosen — who finished with 21 points and 13 assists — remained Penn’s go-to guy in crunch time, taking it hard to the hoop to draw a foul and sink two game-tying free throws for the final points of regulation. In the first overtime, he scored Penn’s last eight points on a three-point play, another three-pointer and a buzzer-beating floater over a slew of Harvard big men.
The Crimson’s post presence overwhelmed Penn most of the night and proved the difference in the game. The duo of junior forward Keith Wright (with a game-high 25 points) and sophomore Kyle Casey (18 points) combined to shoot 16-for-25.
“They’re the most important part of our team,” McNally said.
“We’re a team that pride ourselves on going inside-out,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker added.
It has become the soundtrack of Penn’s season, Jerome Allen’s insistence: “I don’t coach for moral victories. I coach for victories.”
So despite the grit, guts and “great character” Allen attributed to his team, Eggleston and company now need to recover quickly for Tuesday’s rivalry match against first-place Princeton.
“We do not care whether we’re winning by 30 or however many [against Dartmouth] or playing a double-overtime, one-point game against Harvard,” Eggleston said. “I want a ring. That’s it.”
At least, as Rosen pointed out, there’s still some silver lining to the loss.
“We still control our own destiny,” he said. “It’s still about us, it always will be, and that’s the positive.”
This article has been changed from its original version to reflect that Penn erased an 18-point deficit, not Harvard.