For “two extremely strong and spirited minutes,” as coach Andy Toole called them, his Robert Morris team dominated Saturday’s game at the Palestra.
But after the Colonials’ opening 10-0 run, Penn took control for the remaining 38 minutes on its way to a 66-60 win.
“We got hit first — it’s like a knockout punch in the first round,” Penn senior point guard Zack Rosen said. “And we knew we were in it for the long haul and inched our way back.”
The Quakers (3-1) closed the gap and entered the locker room up, 31-30, at halftime. After the break, Penn gave the Colonials (2-1) its own knockout punch with an eight-point run to surge ahead.
Rosen scored 19 points and had 10 assists. He converted five of Penn’s ten three-pointers on the night.
“Good baseline drives by our guys getting the defense to suck in,” Rosen said, giving credit to his teammates. “We go over that a lot in practice. We’re trying to get those passes to the corner on those baseline drives [when] the whole defense floods the ball.”
Sophomore guard Miles Cartwright put up 12 points, while senior Tyler Bernardini had 19 along with eight rebounds.
“I know Tyler can make shots and some days the ball will go in and some days it won’t,” Allen said. “But for us, we need him to be consistent in his defensive effort and [his defensive rebounding].”
Despite leading by as much as 13, the Red and Blue allowed the Colonials to creep back late in the second half after junior forward Russell Johnson nailed a three, making it a four-point game.
Senior center Mike Howlett, battling cramps, knocked down two free throws to swing the momentum back in Penn’s favor — a play that Allen cited as the biggest of the game.
Senior Rob Belcore was also responsible for some momentum shifts with three steals, one the result of an intercepted Robert Morris inbounds pass. He converted the steal under the basket for an easy layup. With Penn’s lead shrinking, Belcore shadowed the Colonials’ leading scorer, Philadelphia native Velton Jones, and held him to 16 points on the night.
“Fear the beard,” Allen said of the unshaven Belcore. “He’s played the hardest I’ve ever seen anyone play since I’ve been associated with the game — that’s 25 years.
“He’s denying the inbounds pass, and he’s sprinting back to pick up his man, and he’s flying in there and getting the defensive rebound. He can’t jump over a piece of paper, but for me, he’s just been awesome.”
The game marked Toole’s return to the Palestra after a standout career for the Quakers from 2000-03. The 30-year old, who remains the youngest Division I head basketball coach in the nation, led the Colonials to an 18-14 record and third-place finish in the Northeast Conference last season, his first as head coach.
After his new team’s loss, Toole praised his alma mater.
“Jerome has them going in the right direction for sure.”