Zack Rosen winced in the post-game press conference after he was discretely fed the score from Harvard’s overtime win at Columbia Friday night. The Quakers couldn’t get any help.
An upset of the league-leading Crimson would have been nice for Rosen and Co. as they hit the final stretch of the Ivy season. But for the first time in his career, the upset wasn’t necessary for Penn’s title hopes in the final weekend, and the Quakers remained in control with a 54-43 win over Brown at the Palestra.
Behind a game-high 19 points from Rosen and 10 from senior Tyler Bernardini the Red and Blue pulled away from the Bears (8-22, 2-11 Ivy) late in the second half to win their sixth straight game, improving to 10-2 in the Ivy League (18-11 overall), still a half game behind Harvard. If both teams win their remaining few games, it will force a playoff next weekend for the Ivy League’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.
While Penn tallied its fourth double-digit victory of the Ivy season, it was just a three-point game with 2:15 seconds remaining. But who other than Rosen hit a jumper from the foul line to give Penn a two-possession lead for good.
“This late in the season coach is talking about just getting it done,” Rosen said. “That’s what we did tonight. It wasn’t pretty obviously. I think we prefer an uglier game, but we got it done, so one more in the win column … and we’ll be at it for tomorrow night.”
After a sloppy first half in which both teams shot under 40 percent, the Quakers trailed seventh-place Brown, 24-22. But Penn turned up the defensive pressure out of the break, forcing five turnovers and collecting 16 rebounds, getting the stops they needed.
“I tried to tell the guys, just believe we’re going to win this basketball game because we get stops and the shots are going to fall,” coach Jerome Allen said.
They did, eventually. Tyler Bernardini hit two threes within the span of a minute to give Penn the lead at 8:59, and the Quakers would hold on. But Bernardini — who flew home to San Diego earlier this week to be with his family after the death of his grandfather — made even bigger contributions on the defensive end. The fifth-year senior, who has been hobbled by a stress fracture in his foot, showed no signs of injury as flew across the floor making clutch hustle plays.
“It shows how much he wants to win the championship,” said sophomore forward Fran Dougherty, who had eight points and eight rebounds for Penn. “He’s put in the time [and] work for the last five years and he’s been a leader for us.”
Though they haven’t made it easy on themselves, the Quakers have strung together six consecutive — albeit white-knuckle — wins. But it doesn’t feel like it, Dougherty said.
“Every game is so close, you feel like you win one game a night and then you’re on to the next one, feels like a whole new tournament.”
Facing another “championship game,” as Dougherty put it, Penn returns to the Palestra Saturday night to play Yale, which was eliminated from the title race after a loss to Princeton Friday. It will be senior night for the Quakers in another must-win game. Rosen said he’s not quite sure how he’ll react when he steps out on the Palestra floor for the final time
“Not there yet,” he said.
Not quite yet.