The atmosphere at the Palestra and the circumstances surrounding Penn’s 74-63 victory over Quinnipiac Wednesday night in the College Basketball Invitational were just bizarre.
Bizarre because the attendance for the Quakers’ first postseason win since 1994 seemed more befitting of a preseason exhibition.
Bizarre because this 11-point victory — and not the ultimate, feel-good 21-point win over Yale on Senior Night — could have been the last game Zack Rosen and Rob Belcore played at the Palestra.
And mostly bizarre because the Quakers had just three days to mentally gear up for this game after learning their previous one — a 10-point loss to Princeton that denied Penn a share of the Ivy title and a chance at an NCAA Tournament bid — was not their last.
The Quakers could have played disinterested, still sapped from the deflating loss to the Tigers and indifferent to an opponent they have not faced since 2004.
But to their credit, the Red and Blue fed off their own energy and played like the game meant something more than just “Round One” of the CBI.
“We’re not dancing … but we still got shoes on,” Rosen said. “We’re treating this like it is our tournament.”
And it’s that mentality, more than the ‘W’ itself, that matters most going forward. The fact that coach Jerome Allen and his staff, along with the seniors, got the younger guys to come out and compete speaks to the level of maturity of this team.
“I’ve been impressed with their grit,” Allen said afterward.
Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore also praised the Quakers for their effort, especially given the Princeton loss.
“I think their guys did a good job of emotionally closing the Ivy League season … and then re-focusing on a new chapter. I thought their team looked mentally ready to play tonight.”
They were more than just mentally invested.
Penn, led by the frenzied defensive effort of Rob Belcore, controlled the game on the perimeter and down low, where, on paper, the Quakers were at a disadvantage.
The Bobcats entered the game first in the nation in offensive rebounds per game (16.9) while averaging a whopping 43.5 total rebounds to Penn’s 30.1.
And yet, the Quakers held the Bobcats to just 10 offensive boards while grabbing nine of their own.
Offensive rebounding essentially comes down to effort, and the Red and Blue brought it. In a way, they beat Quinnipiac at its own game, all while torching the Bobcats from three-point land — Belcore and Miles Cartwright shot a combined 8-for-11 from distance.
It was fitting that Cartwright had one of his best games of the season Wednesday night, as he will be passed the torch next year as a starting junior.
His intensity from the opening tip in many ways set the tone, which, again, speaks to his own maturity and potential as a go-to leader next year.
So while a win in the CBI may not be important for the casual fan, the ability of this team to mentally bounce back — after a loss to Princeton, no less — and play with intensity is the biggest takeaway.
And if the Quakers can keep building on their maturity, they won’t suffer a huge setback after the graduation of Rosen, Belcore, Tyler Bernardini and Mike Howlett — no matter how bizarre that may sound now.
KEVIN ESTEVES is a senior communications major from The Bronx, N.Y., and is a former Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.