Penn played with stretches of that old Palestra magic and had a crowd of 7,462 absolutely roaring at times.
But as Harvard shots began to hit the twine consistently in the second half, the Quakers’ offense could not keep pace. The teams were tied at 30 halfway through the second half, before Harvard scored seven straight points.
Though Penn repeatedly came close to closing the point gap, they were rebuffed by Harvard’s imposing inside presence as the Crimson (21-3, 7-1 Ivy) defeated the Quakers (13-11, 5-2) by a score of 56-50.
An active Penn defense was not enough to stymie Harvard’s big rotation of Kyle Casey, Keith Wright and freshman Steve Moundou-Missi. Casey’s 15 points, Wright’s 13 rebounds and Moundou-Missi’s solid minutes off the bench gave the Penn bigs a little more than they could handle.
The X-factor for Harvard was not a big man, but the second half play of hot-shooting freshman Corbin Miller, who led all scorers with 17.
Despite struggling mightily to score for stretches in the second half, with 23.7 seconds left in the game, a Zack Rosen three from NBA range cut the Crimson lead to three.
The Quakers fouled on the ensuing inbound but not before the Crimson got the ball into the hands of Miller. The Palestra shaking, he made only his second foul shot.
Rosen quickly took the ball up the court and was able to find Tyler Bernardini open in the corner from deep. Bernardini left the shot just short, and after Casey sunk two more foul shots, time expired on the Quakers’ upset bid.
A slew of early fouls in each half stuck with Penn like a bad cold as Harvard enjoyed bonus free throws for a larger part of the first half.
Both coaches mentioned the foul situation as impacting the game, especially with regards to Bernardini. The guard, who earlier in the season was one of the top five scorers in the Ivy League, was limited to 28 minutes and no field goals.
Any look at the game tape will be painful for Penn. The Quakers missed several layups early in the game and, though on another night they might have taken a lead into halftime, it was the Crimson who held the advantage at the break.
Harvard head man Tommy Amaker credited senior guard Oliver McNally with providing the senior leadership that his team needed to pull out the victory in a hostile environment.
“You can’t come in here and have any success in this kind of environment with a marked game and I think this was certainly one of the games thus far in the Ivy League that was a marquee kind of game.”
Both teams deserve credit for their defensive efforts. Penn played a very active and energized style of defense, winning the turnover battle, eight to seven. Harvard’s big men made life difficult for the Quakers near the basket. The Crimson were also well-prepared to counter the high on-ball screen for Rosen that has jumpstarted the Penn offense in so many contests this season.
Penn coach Jerome Allen downplayed the magnitude of the loss for his Quakers, insisting that there was a lot of basketball to be played.
In a variation of the ‘one-game-at-a-time’ sports cliché, Allen said, “Tonight was a big game for us because it was the next game on our schedule. With basketball, you play it one possession at a time, one half at a time, one game at a time.”
Allen’s words proved to be prophetic as the Quakers narrowly defeated the Dartmouth Big Green while Harvard lost 70-62 to Princeton. Despite Saturday’s disappointing loss, Penn remains in contention for the Ivy title