It was one final goodbye at the Palestra for Zack Rosen.
In what turned out to be the senior’s final game in a Penn uniform, Rosen, Rob Belcore and the rest of the Quakers put in a valiant effort, but could not overcome poor shooting, as Butler defeated the Quakers, 63-53, in the quarterfinals of the College Basketball Invitational.
“I went through a lot of the emotional stuff a week and a half ago,” said Rosen, who ended his illustrious career as Penn’s all-time leader in assists and starts. “Being the last game here, I’d just really like to thank the student body, the fans and the alumni. We saw it go from brown paper bags over people’s heads — of the 20 that showed up — to a student section of over 2,000.”
With just less than two minutes remaining, Rosen hit his patented pull-up jumper one last time to bring Penn to within six, 52-46. But that would be as close the Quakers would come in the final minutes.
On the next possession, Butler’s star guard Ronald Nored slipped, regained his footing and hit a driving runner with 1:18 on the clock to ice the game and dash Penn’s hopes.
The two-time NCAA Tournament runner-ups tried to get out in transition and wear down the Quakers from the start. With guard Steve Rennard out due to an ankle injury, and Mike Howlett and Tyler Bernardini still hurt, the Quakers needed contributions from the bench.
Coach Jerome Allen started sophomores Fran Dougherty and Henry Brooks together for the first time all season and frequently used Simeon Esprit, who until today had played only 27 minutes on the year.
“I hope they use it as a springboard, in particular Simeon Espirit, who didn’t really play at all this season,” Allen said of his young players. “You never know when you’re number is going to be called, and to Fran and Simeon’s credit, they did a tremendous job tonight to give the team what we needed to be competitive.”
Both teams’ shooting struggled mightily in the first half. Penn shot just 7-for-29 (24 percent) and Butler wasn’t much better at 8-for-30 (27 percent). The Bulldogs led at the midway point, 20-17.
“We thought [Rosen] was very good,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “The thing that we shared with our guys was Jeremy Lin’s stats with Zack Rosen’s stats their senior years in the Ivy League, and Zack Rosen’s stats were better in every category.”
Hounded by Nored, the two-time Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, Rosen scored just 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“It was a tough matchup [with Rosen],” Nored said. “He’s always playing hard … I assume he’s 22. I’m 22, and I can’t play 40 minutes as hard as he does.”
Coming out of the break, the game was there for the taking for either team. Dougherty blocked Butler forward Khyle Marshall in the post and Miles Cartwright finished off the sequence with a three from the wing with 17:03 left in the second half to help put the Quakers up by two.
After two Marshall free throws tied the game, Dougherty came right back down with a great spin move in the post to help Penn regain the lead. The teams traded buckets and the contest remained tied until the 13:47 mark.
The Bulldogs took the lead, as Kameron Woods hit a long jumper and Bulldogs forward Erik Fromm nailed a runner to put Butler up for good.
Penn, though, would not let up and chipped away at the lead, but was hurt when Dougherty picked up his fourth foul with just over seven minutes remaining. The foul relegated Dougherty to the bench, and his replacement Brooks picked up his fourth foul only minutes later.
In the end, the game will best be remembered as Rosen’s finale. The guard, along with seniors Rob Belcore and Tyler Bernardini, helped revive the Penn men’s basketball program from a 6-22 season two years ago to coming within one game of the Ivy title this year.
“He did everything for us,” Allen said of his three-time captain. “[He’s a] tremendous leader, extremely hard worker, great human being. He’s been an asset to this university — not just this program, but Penn, the Ivy League and the city of Philadelphia as best as any student-athlete could.
“I’m not sure where this program would be or where this team would be if not for him, and I appreciate the opportunity for being his coach.”