What a strange night for Penn basketball.
A scoreboard malfunction, middle-aged folks in the student section, a pair of rookies combining for over 40 points — and of course, a 75-72 victory over Harvard — were just a few of many things that didn’t seem quite right Saturday at the Palestra.
“That’s the frustrating part — I don’t know who we are. Tonight we played with a certain sense of desperation, sense of urgency, that wasn’t there last night,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “We’re a relatively young team, some days we’re going to look pretty good and some days we’re going to look pretty bad.
“But the effort, attention to detail on the defensive end is something that I just think we should be able to sustain come March.”
The Quakers (8-20, 5-6 Ivy) entered their matchup against the Crimson (17-9, 9-3) having suffered two bad losses in a row against traditional Ivy bottom-dwellers Columbia and Dartmouth.
But up 38-26 at halftime, the Red and Blue were almost playing like the Ivy League Champion teams the nostalgic fans in the Palestra could have seen more than a decade ago.
Harvard closed the gap in the second frame, getting as close as within two. But the Quakers ground out the tough victory, as the Crimson could not make up for a terrible shooting performance from the field in the first half.
With only four seconds left on the game clock, Harvard senior guard Christian Webster sank a trey that made the game 74-72. Crimson freshman guard Siyani Chambers then fouled freshman guard Tony Hicks, who converted one of his two free throw attempts to put his team up by three.
“[There was] no pressure. It pays off in the game, just trying to relax,” Hicks said. “I missed one — I knew it was off, though, but there was no chance I was missing the second one.”
Webster’s subsequent three-pointer attempt fell short, and Penn’s upset was complete.
The usually accurate Crimson went only 6-for-23 in the first stanza, while their Penn counterparts shot 16-for-30. But, much like the rest of the season, the Quakers let their opponent stay in the game, committing more than 10 fouls in both halves. Harvard went 24-for-33 from the charity stripe.
That remained the only downside to Penn’s play on the night, though. Hicks once again confirmed he was not a fluke, leading the Quakers with 24 points — the third time he scored at least 20 in his last four contests.
Classmate center Darien Nelson-Henry did his job inside the paint, racking up an impressive 18 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. Junior captain Miles Cartwright and sophomore forward Henry Brooks also scored in double-digits, with 12 points apiece.
“Miles kept saying, ‘We’ve grown up’,” Hicks said. “It was a big deal for us to close a game. Normally we would be playing to not lose instead of to win. We just kept getting stops and believing — that’s all it’s about.”
And for the most part, the Red and Blue were in top form defensively. Despite surrendering 20 points to sophomore guard Wesley Saunders, the Quakers’ ‘D’ made the right plays at the right moment to seal the deal.
“I take my hat off to [my players] because they responded,” Allen said. “But good teams are consistent in their effort and their focus — and that’s what we’re striving to do.”
It was a complete effort for Penn basketball, and that effort paid off.
The Quakers’ next game action will come Friday as they travel to Providence to take on Brown at 7 p.m.