John McAdams, the longtime voice of the Palestra, was there at the mic. The two coaches were Big 5 born-and-raised. Four of the starters had cut their basketball teeth in Philadelphia. And, for the first time since 1991, two teams were meeting in a truly consequential Big 5 game, not an is-this-or-is-this-not official Big 5/City Series matchup. Except one thing was wrong. It was not the Palestra. There were no pigeons roosting on iron rafters and no dusty trophy cases, no "B I G F I V E" spelled out under the East basket and certainly no cement floors that have stood up to 70-plus years of Philadelphian foot-stomping. "I'd rather see it at the Palestra, but I understand the reason for wanting to come up here," Rubincam said last night. Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky, seated next to Rubincam at center court last night, knows a thing or too about the City Series himself, earning election to the Big 5 Hall of Fame in '88 for his stellar play as a Quakers guard 30 years ago. And last night, there were definitely no streamers, no musty concourse and no ear-drum bursting cheers echoing off an arched ceiling that's more kettle drum and amplifier than rafters and roof. "[Gola] is kind of a hard gym to generate that kind of excitement," Bilsky said. "I think there is a lot of noise, but it's not like being at the Palestra where it reverberates." But as anti-climactic as it might seem to revive the Big 5 anywhere else than at the Palestra with a doubleheader, the important thing is that the Big 5 is back. Period. "Both teams are playing hard, I think it's your typical Big 5 game," Bilsky said during a timeout with 11 minutes to play and La Salle leading 55-44. Little did Bilsky, or anyone else for that matter, know just how fast-and-furious the game's ending would be. After a lethargic first half and a confused first 30 minutes, the Quakers found themselves in danger of seeing an eight-game winning streak over La Salle snapped. After combining for an atrocious 3-for-24 performance from the floor in Saturday's loss to Penn State, Penn co-captains Michael Jordan and Matt Langel suddenly bounced back Big-5 style with 8:38 to play. Langel drained a three and deflected a La Salle pass to Jordan; Jordan then stole it himself after a Lamar Plummer miss and La Salle rebound before dishing to Langel for yet another three to cut it to 59-54 at the 8:03 mark. Jordan and Langel combined for 27 second-half points, and the two teams tallied 26 points over the game's final 2:45 as the Quakers desperately fought back and La Salle valiantly held them off. It was the Explorers' first win over Penn since December 1, 1990 -- the last time the two teams met in an official Big 5 game with the full slate of round-robin standings at stake. But round-robin or no round-robin, Palestra or no Palestra, the City Series games have always been, and will always be, intense battles and matters of pride. And they're something no player can truly understand until he has played in one. "I think our younger guys learned a little bit about Big 5 basketball tonight," said Penn coach Fran Dunphy, who captained La Salle in 1969-70. "You can't really explain it, you have to experience it and I think that's what they did." But as badly as Jordan, Langel & Co. wanted to start their Big 5 season 1-0 and earn bragging rights over many of the players they battled all summer in Philly, the Explorers played a determined and hungry 40 minutes of basketball. "We won the first Big 5 game since '91, and we wanted to win it bad, really bad," La Salle coach Speedy Morris said. "It's a pride thing, playing against guys that you know," said La Salle's Donnie Carr, who burned the Quakers for 25 points of pride last night. Carr, a veteran guard, has an excellent shot this season at becoming just the fourth player in history to earn first-team All-Big 5 honors four times. And last night, in a game with a significance belied by the setting but deeply understood by the players, Carr played as if he received an ice-water IV before the game. The Philly native and Roman Catholic product hit 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists while turning the ball over just once in a full 40 minutes. "That was the motivation all week, we didn't want to be the first to lose in the return of the Big 5," Carr said. "We didn't want to be remembered as that team." Instead, the Quakers played their hearts out for just a few spurts at a time, bringing life and a buzz to the Gola crowd while trying to make it close in the game's final minutes, as Philly basketball regained its real pulse for the first time since '91. But the Explorers were better prepared for a true Big 5 matchup and earned the right to ink their names on the first page of The Story of the Big Five, Chapter Two.Comments powered by Disqus
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