BOSTON — 29-game home winning streak? Nope. NCAA Tournament berth? Not yet. Ivy League title? To be determined.
Harvard had a chance to seal all of the above with a win against the Quakers on Saturday night. But for the Crimson, it wasn’t meant to be. In the Penn basketball program’s biggest game in the last five years,, the Quakers pulled off the upset in Beantown, winning 55-54.
It all came down to star senior Zack Rosen. With the ball in his hands and his team down one, he drove the lane and drew the foul on Harvard big man Kyle Casey. With 23.2 seconds remaining, he was awarded two shots.
“Oh, those were good,” said Rosen, the only Penn player in double digits on the night with 20 points. “I missed the one-and-one [Saturday] and I missed the front end that sent the Columbia game into overtime [last weekend]. So, those were good.”
And the confidence showed. Rosen sunk both with ease, putting Penn (17-11, 9-2 Ivy) up by one point — its first lead since it was 17-16 with 8:29 left in the first.
The Quakers still had to defend. With 10 seconds left, Corbin Miller — the hot-shooting guard who hit three treys en route to a game-high 17 points two weeks ago at the Palestra — missed an open three-point attempt for the Crimson (24-4, 10-2). This time, the freshman was held scoreless on the night.
The teams fought for the loose ball and it went out of bounds. Though it appeared to deflect off of Casey, possession was awarded to Harvard with 5.7 seconds on the clock. In disbelief, though his team still had a chance to make a stop, Penn coach Jerome Allen called a timeout.
The inbounds pass went down low to Casey, who immediately went to put it up. He banked it off the glass and in with 3.4 seconds left, appearing to simultaneously draw a foul on Tyler Bernardini. The Crimson student section went into a frenzy.
But the decision went against Casey. He was called for the charge, and the basket was no good. The Red and Blue were still up, 55-54.
“Tyler Bernardini made an unbelievable play,” Rosen said of his four-year teammate. “For a guy that’s not 100 percent, that dude made a great, great, help-side defensive play. And saved the season.”
After a Penn timeout, Rob Belcore inbounded the ball to Bernardini at halfcourt, who quickly passed it off to Fran Dougherty at Penn’s offensive end. Time expired before Harvard had a chance to foul.
“It was a long [23 seconds], but we’re a defensive team,” Rosen said. “I told the guys, we wouldn’t rather be in any position rather than on defense, trying to get a stop. That’s what we hang our hats on.”
Though Allen remained mostly cool, calm and collected afterward, he did comment on the significance of the game.
“This is what college basketball is all about in my opinion,” the third-year coach said. “Whether it be the alumni coming out to support [or] the student bodies going up against one another, I just think it’s great. There’s nothing like college basketball.”
The win puts Penn a half-game behind Harvard in the Ivy League, though both squads each have two losses. The Crimson, with two games remaining, must travel to Columbia and Cornell next weekend. Penn has three games to play: two at home against Brown and Yale next weekend before wrapping up the season at Princeton on March 6.
Zack Rosen knows there’s still a lot of work to do.
“We didn’t play our best,” he said. “We got it done regardless of not playing our best, and [we’ve] got three left to control our own destiny. This thing is far from over.”