About a half-hour before tipoff last night, a fan decked out in Princeton orange and black was standing outside the Palestra telling a friend about the ticket he had just scalped. "It's worth it," the Princeton guy said. "Forty bucks is definitely worth it to get in. This is the changing of the guard we're about to see." But by the end of the game, for that fan and about 1,000 others like him, it was as if the crew in front of Buckingham Palace had packed up and gone home without any ceremony, without even so much as a goodbye. The Tigers spent most of the second half finding new ways to say, "All right, you win again this time. We'll see you at Lehigh." Indeed, the only interesting thing the fans sitting behind the Princeton bench got to see was the changing of the garb. The sweater was off Tigers coach Pete Carril before the game was two minutes old. On more than one occasion the rest of the way, as the Tigers struggled to generate any semblance of an offense, Carril tried to rip his shirt off as well, then thought better of it. One thing is for sure: Carril could not have looked any worse sans shirt than his team did trying in vain to produce points last night. If the Princeton offense wants to vanish in these bigger-than-life games, Penn is only too happy to take advantage. Quakers center Tim Krug would probably be the first to tell you his Senior Night performance was not one of his most memorable. But the Penn co-captain got plenty of help, unlike his Princeton counterpart, Steve Goodrich. Goodrich torched the Quakers for 26 tough points. The rest of his team had 23. Were the Tigers' offensive woes a result of the coaching of Penn's Fran Dunphy, or the fact that the Quakers undoubtedly raise their level of play a notch against their arch-rivals, or some little devil hovering over Carril's shoulder? Probably all of the above. For every time the smothering Penn 'D' did in a Princeton offensive possession, the Tigers killed themselves. What open looks they did get had woefully little chance of going in. Two-of-14 from behind the arc is not going to win you many big games, especially when, on average, 48 percent of your field goal attempts are from three-point range. Princeton fans can talk as much as they want about having the higher mean IQ. The fact remains that every time the Quakers and Tigers have hooked up on the basketball court the past four years, Penn has been the smarter team. The Quakers' performance against Princeton is never beautiful, but it does the job. Conversely, Princeton routinely appears flustered, panicked and, well, stupid. The Quakers' smarts were very much in evidence after the final buzzer. Penn fans stormed the court in ecstasy. But unlike last year, when players and fans celebrated together after the final home game, this year the Quakers shook hands with the Tigers and calmly left the court. The message was clear and obvious -- there is still work to be done. So now it's on to this one-game playoff. Should the Quakers falter Saturday, it will be tempting for fans to blame the Ivy League. Throughout the sports world, head-to-head is traditionally the first tiebreaker used. Penn swept both games from the Tigers in 1995-96. Don't the Quakers deserve the bid? In truth, Penn will have no one to blame but itself should it leave Lehigh on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Its two conference defeats, particularly the one to a clearly inferior Yale team, should never have happened. Take away either that loss or the heartbreaker at Dartmouth, and the Quakers are in the NCAAs right now off last night's victory. The guess here, though, is that all of that talk will be moot by around 9:30 Saturday night. I'll take Ira Bowman, Krug and Dunphy in a big game over anyone on the Princeton roster. Donald Moxley had his second straight brilliant game against the Tigers last night. Why should anything change Saturday? Carril and the Tigers have been trying to adjust to the Quakers for four years now, and have been completely unable to do so. One of the hardest tasks in college basketball is to defeat an opponent three times in one year. But if the opponent just cannot match up, it may not be so difficult after all. Goodrich will not score 26 points on Krug Saturday. Meanwhile, guys like Chris Doyal and Sydney Johnson have been stymied by the Quakers every time they have stepped on the court against them. Penn 60, Princeton 51. Save your money, Tigers fans. There will be no changing of the guard this year.Comments powered by Disqus
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