The Penn student section provided the Quakers with a colorful boost in Friday's win and Saturday's blowout. It is not difficult to see why the Penn men's basketball team is playing so well at home this year. With the Red and Blue finally gelling as a unit, Penn is playing its best basketball of the season. But as the Quakers improved their home record to 7-2 with this past weekend's wins over Cornell and Columbia, it is clear that Penn is receiving contributions from more than just the five players on the Palestra floor. Penn drew 4,194 fans for Friday's contest against Cornell, while 4,214 attended Saturday's Columbia game. Although the the Palestra was less than half-full, the cheering more than made up for the empty seats. With their tremendous fan support, the Quakers have added a "sixth man," giving them an obvious advantage, especially against Ivy League teams that lack experience playing in front of a raucous, hostile crowd. The effort coming from Penn students, faculty, alumni and supporters has caused opposing teams to cringe. The Penn faithful sheds its prim-and-proper Ivy League image as soon as the game clock starts ticking. Over the weekend, fans could be heard chanting "Airball" at any opposing player who failed to hit the rim or the backboard on a shot. A special target of the fans Friday night was Cornell forward Ray Mercedes. Penn fans began to taunt the Big Red junior from the get-go, and Mercedes heard the crowd erupt in laughter after he missed an easy layup. The noise had a definite effect on Mercedes, who despite scoring a game-high 24 points, seemed caught up with trying to retaliate against the fans' remarks. The raucous bunch wearing their Red and Blue Crew T-shirts also gave one of Mercedes' teammates, point guard Wallace Prather, a difficult time as he starting knocking down a few shots late in the game. Quakers fans started chanting "Gary Coleman" when Prather, whose afro and diminutiveness give him a likeness to the former sitcom star, dribbled down the court. Prather finished with 13 points, making less than one-third of his attempts from the floor. The crowd was also heard telling Columbia coach Armond Hill to "Sit down and shut up," as he argued with the refs over a call. Cornell coach Scott Thompson did not fare much better with Quakers fans, hearing a barrage of boos as his team continued to commit fouls when it seemed the game was out of reach. "The fans are allowed to do and say what they want to say," Hill said. "They are reacting to everything, which is fine. It's part of basketball. Penn has a big following, but when you are winning you get that." "They have shown us a lot of support," Penn freshman forward Ugonna Onyekwe added. "I am not used to having home crowd support like this. They help get us up during the game, and they do a good job of taking the opposing teams out of the game. They give us a good home court advantage." Fans gave Penn co-captain Michael Jordan a standing ovation on Saturday night after hearing the announcement that the four-year starter and the favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year had become the sixth player in Penn history to score 1,500 career points. "Michael Jordan is a pretty special basketball player here at Penn," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "To have that kind of recognition from the crowd is nice to see." The crowd was deafening when fourth-year junior varsity player Chris Ward entered the game for Penn against Columbia with 1:51 remaining in the game. The student section stood as if the game had turned into a nail-biter. They perked up even more as Ward hit his second free throw and recorded a steal. "It was like a dream come true," Ward said. "The crowd was great. People I didn't even know were chanting my name. It was awesome." Such behavior from the crowd has not been commonplace at non-Princeton Ivy League games over the past few seasons. In previous years, the number of students attending a lackluster Ivy weekend series could fit into College Hall 200. However, students came out in droves to see the Quakers take on Cornell and Columbia this past weekend. "In years past, there would hardly be anyone here at these games," Ward said. "Normally the two sidelines are full, but the end courts were also full. It was impressive for a Saturday night against Columbia when you know Penn was going to blow them out."Comments powered by Disqus
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