Ranked and spanked: No. 22 Cornell upset by Penn
February 13, 2010, 1:55 am · Updated February 15, 2010, 12:00 am·
The magic returned to the Cathedral of College Basketball Friday night.
In a stunning turn of events, Penn downed No. 22 Cornell — heavily favored to win both the game and the Ivy League — 79-64 in its first win at home since Feb. 28, 2009.
The recipe for what has since been called the upset of the year in college hoops involved meticulous preparation on Penn’s part, with the key ingredient added just before the opening tip.
“All the guys in the locker room went out and expected to win the game,” sophomore point guard Zack Rosen said. “There was a quiet confidence about us.”
After pushing No. 1 Kansas to the brink — they lost by only five point — just last month, Cornell (21-4, 7-1 Ivy) was expected to trounce the Quakers, but it was clear from the get-go that Penn would hang with the Big Red.
“We did a really good job [Friday] of … making the first punch instead of taking it,” Rosen said.
Controlling the action at a deliberate pace, Rosen — who scored 22 points and dished out five assists — guided a Penn offense that executed brilliantly to the tune of 1.34 points per possession.
“It was a terrific game plan,” Cornell coach and former Penn assistant Steve Donahue said. “They played every second of every possession.”
Shooting at a 29 percent clip from behind the arc entering the game, the Quakers (4-16, 3-3) drained 11 of their 21 attempts from long range, including a 4-for-5 night from forward Jack Eggleston.
The teams alternated leads six times during the first half before Eggleston gave Penn a 32-31 advantage at the break with three of his career-high 24 points.
The Quakers came out of the locker room on fire, storming to a 15-point run. Penn sank 15 of its 23 second-half shots — going 6-for-8 from deep — and held the shell-shocked Big Red to 33 percent from the field after halftime.
“I thought we didn’t play poised,” Donahue said. “There were a couple times [where] I thought we were pressing [and] trying to force things when we got behind.”
The second-half push was fueled by center Mike Howlett, playing in his first action since Dec. 12 due to a foot injury.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore held his own against All-Ivy seven-footer Jeff Foote. Howlett sunk four of his five shots and pulled down nine rebounds.
“I honestly think if not for him tonight, maybe we [wouldn’t] have this feeling at the end of the game,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said.
But while the margin got as close as five with just under seven minutes to play, Penn held off every Cornell rally, digging deep to pull off a monumental upset.
“[Allen] told me after the under-four media [timeout], ‘it’s three minutes, suck it up,’” Rosen said.
As the Quakers completed the upset, the crowd of 4,332 soaked in every second of Penn’s first victory over a ranked opponent in 12 years. The “over-rated” chant echoed through the Palestra walls, and the student section rushed the court after the final buzzer sounded.
“This shows us that we can be competitive in the league,” Eggleston said. “We already believe that, but … [now we] have something we can point out for the rest of the year.”
And, on the night that shook up the Penn campus, the Ivy League and most of the college hoops nation, Rosen finally found out what a big win feels like.
“[Allen] always talks about ‘winning’s gonna hurt,’” said the sophomore, who was in so much pain at the postgame press conference that he had trouble sitting down. “And I’m telling you right now, it hurts.”
But it hurts so good.