Even before the Owls won the opening tip, Penn’s home opener against Temple was making history.
Not only was the game the earliest meeting between the cross-city rivals, but it was also the earliest Big 5 game in the unofficial conference’s 57-year history.
With speculation that the Big 5 could be in its final days, this throwback game couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It was typical in the sense that no matter who you’re playing in this city, games typically come down to the wire,” coach Jerome Allen said about the Big 5 matchup. “It was great for the city, great for both universities.”
The first half of Temple’s eventual 73-67 overtime win was defined by two streaks. Penn had a 9-0 run early, and the Owls had their own 14-0 run late. When the first horn sounded, the teams went to the locker rooms tied at 28.
The Quakers’ critical possession of the second half came with just under two minutes to play and the Owls (1-0, 1-0 Big 5) leading by two. Penn (1-1, 0-1 Big 5) had trailed since the 18:31 point, but was mounting a comeback.
Coming out of a timeout, senior Tyler Bernardini tried to drive the lane and nearly walked, but before doing so he managed to kick the ball out to fellow senior Zack Rosen. With the Cherry and White faithful screaming for a travel, Rosen nailed a three — his fourth of the night — and the Palestra erupted as Penn took the lead, 57-56, with just 1:20 remaining.
The three-pointer was one of seven for Rosen. With a game-high 27 points, he carried the Quakers to the brink of an upset.
After the game, Rosen was not thinking about what he had done to give Penn a chance to win, but rather what he should have done to assure his team the win.
“I was thinking about the 1-and-1 that I missed in the last five minutes of the game,” he said.
As a counter to Penn’s Rosen, Temple had senior Juan Fernandez. He hit a big three at a time when his team needed it most — he put the Owls up five with just 17 seconds remaining in overtime.
Like Rosen, he also came up short in a spot that could have cost his team the game — with seven seconds remaining in the second half and the game tied, he was called for carrying, giving the Quakers the final shot in regulation. Bernardini just missed a jumper at the buzzer.
It is a fine line that separates the winner and losers, the heroes and the goats. After the game, Fernandez was all smiles, while Rosen could barely bring himself to lift up his head. The roles could have easily been reversed.
Though Temple won its fifth-straight game over Penn, for the third consecutive year, the Quakers gave the Owls all they could handle.
“For the third year in a row, I think Penn played better than we did,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy admitted. “We just managed to score more points.”
Rosen, though, does not believe in moral victories. Despite the fact that Penn nearly toppled a Temple team only one spot away from cracking the Top 25, it’s still a loss all the same to Rosen.
“For myself and the seniors, we will leave this place not having beaten Temple once,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”