For the second time in as many years, the Penn men's basketball team is champion of the Ivy League and headed to the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers swept this weekend's games against Brown and Yale to capture the title, enabling the Red and Blue to cut down the nets at home in the Palestra for the first time in six years. "I think it's a job well done by a bunch of kids who have worked hard all year long," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I'm happy for the seniors in particular, but for the group as a whole. It's just a culmination of a long, hard fight." And while the wins were a total team effort, it was the seniors, playing in their last regular season weekend of their careers, who stole the show. On Friday against the Bears, Penn fourth-year center Geoff Owens -- who will petition the Ivy League for a fifth year of eligibility since he missed his sophomore season with a medical condition -- had perhaps his best game as a Quaker. Owens scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and tied a personal high with six blocked shots. The 6'11" Owens had his way with players in the Brown frontcourt that were five inches smaller than he is. The Quakers started off dominating Brown, sinking nine of their first 12 shots from the field. Penn jumped out to a 23-7 lead featuring solid play from the inside and outside. Both Owens and forward Ugonna Onyekwe had points in the paint, which enabled guards Matt Langel and Michael Jordan to get open looks at three-pointers. This balanced attack helped the Quakers to take a 46-26 lead at the half. The second stanza began with a 12-5 Penn run, and the Red and Blue never looked back, eventually beating the Bears, 85-62. Owens might have had a career night, but the Penn co-captains were impressive as well. Jordan was 4-for-7 from three-point land, scoring 19. He also grabbed 10 rebounds. Langel hit on 4-of-10 from beyond the arc and dished out seven assists. Both backcourt players credit Owens with opening up the offense as well as improving the defense. "The difference playing defense from my sophomore to my junior year was huge knowing that there was a legitimate seven-footer back there who was such a defensive presence," Langel said. "We know we have a post player and that adds to our team offensively as well." While Friday night was an important win, the weekend's focus was on Saturday against the Elis. With a win against Yale, the Quakers would clinch the Ivy title. A loss meant that Penn needed a victory on Tuesday against Princeton to gain a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Clearly, the Quakers wanted to take care of things this weekend. Penn jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead, highlighted by Frank Brown, who scored six of the Quakers' first 12 points. Brown had a quiet night Friday, but dominated against Yale, hitting 6-of-12 from the field and all three of his free throw attempts. "Frank was unbelievable early," Dunphy said. "He came through shot after shot when we were struggling a bit. I am real happy to see him step up and see him end his career the way he is ending it." Despite the Quakers shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, the Elis managed to claw back and stay within eight at 29-21 at halftime. Both teams came out hot after intermission. Yale guards Chris Leanza and Onaje Woodbine hit two three-pointers each to bring the Elis within two points with just over 13 minutes left in the contest. "I thought it was close the whole game," Yale coach James Jones said. "We kept fighting. The game was never out of hand. I thought we had a chance to do some good things, and if a call or two goes our way, we might have had a different result." The Quakers were able to counter the Yale attack, as Jordan stormed right back down the court to nail a three. Onyekwe then stole the ball on Yale's next trip down the court, was fouled and sunk 1-of-2 free throws. After another Yale turnover, Onyekwe was fouled again and this time hit both from the foul line. Owens then followed that score with a tip-in off a Langel miss to put the Quakers up by 10. Penn never looked back from there. "We got a couple of good stops and pushed the ball down and scored," Jordan said about the series of plays that stopped the Elis run. "Ugonna had a basket and a foul; Frank made a couple of shots; the guys on the team just made some plays." With about five minutes left in the game, when it was clear that the Quakers would be victorious, the 5,706 in attendance began to chant "Ivy Champs." As the final buzzer sounded, the fans stormed the court to celebrate with the players, something most fans could not do last year when Penn won the title away at Princeton. Moments later, the team returned from the locker room sporting "Back 2 Back Ivy Champions" T-shirts. The crowd gathered around the basket as each player climbed a ladder to cut down and take a piece of the net. The last player, Jordan, the odds-on favorite to win Ivy League Player of the Year award, jumped up and sat on the basket prompting the crowd to chant "MVP." "It's a great feeling to cut down the net in front of the Palestra faithful," Jordan said. "We're just happy they were here to enjoy it with us." Despite the team reaching the goal of becoming Ivy champions, the Quakers still have their hearts set on beating Princeton tomorrow night at the Palestra. A win would make the Red and Blue undefeated in the Ivy League for the first time since 1995.Comments powered by Disqus
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