The concourse will be a bit spiffier. The hallways will have fancy displays on the history of college basketball's most storied gymnasium. And famous faces, such as Julius Erving and Chuck Daly, will be on hand for the festivities. But for the Penn men's basketball team, when the doors swing open to the public for the grand re-opening of the refurbished Palestra this evening, the only thing that matters is that the Quakers will finally be home. After dropping its first four games of the season on the road, Penn will host Big 5 rival La Salle (2-3) in its home opener tonight at 8 p.m. "It's going to be great to come back here to play," Quakers center Geoff Owens said. "It's been tough going on the road the last couple games, so it will be nice to come back home." It certainly has been tough for the Red and Blue in their opening slate of games. Although they hung close in each of their first four contests, the Quakers came up short four times. So far, less than 4,000 tickets have been sold for tonight's game against the Explorers, but penn is hoping to get a boost from the crowd on the night of the Palestra's unveiling. "I hope we get great student support," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "It will be tremendous if we can. It's a great place." La Salle, however, will be out to spoil this special night for Penn fans. It is only appropriate that the $2 million improvements to the Palestra will be displayed for the first time on the evening of a Big 5 matchup. As always, this City Series contest should prove to be competitive and exciting. And the Explorers will certainly be looking for a repeat of their performance at Tom Gola Arena a year ago. Exactly one year ago today, the Explorers edged the Quakers, 83-76, in the first Big 5 game of the season. Then-senior Michael Jordan led the Quakers with 22 points, but Penn could not contain La Salle senior Donnie Carr or sophomore Rasual Butler -- they each finished with 25 points. While first team All-Big 5 performer Carr graduated last season, Butler will once again be causing headaches for the Red and Blue tonight. Butler and senior Victor Thomas have formed a two-headed scoring monster for the Explorers this season. Thomas leads the squad with 22.6 points per game, and Butler is not far off that pace, averaging 19.2. The 6'7" forwards are a dangerous combination, and the responsibility for containing them will fall on the shoulders of Penn sophomores Koko Archibong and Ugonna Onyekwe. "We just have to shade to them when we're in a zone," Dunphy said. "Also, if we're going to play man-to-man, we have to keep them in front of us and hopefully challenge their jump shots." Last Thursday, Butler scored 13 points, shooting a mere 5-of-29 from the field, and Thomas had 10 as the Explorers fell, 63-54, to eighth-ranked Seton Hall. The Quakers will try their luck against the Pirates next Wednesday. Although La Salle could not keep up with the talented Seton Hall squad in the end, the Explorers forced 20 turnovers and held the Hall well below its season average of 96 points per game. La Salle's lethal defense could prove problematic for the Quakers, who have struggled to find an offensive groove. Senior Lamar Plummer leads Penn with 16.0 points per game, but he is the only Quaker who has emerged as a consistent scoring threat. Both Owens and Onyekwe have had moments of brilliance, but have also struggled at times. Onyekwe, especially, has been disastrous at the foul line, shooting a miserable 43.3 percent (13-for-30) this season. "We really need Ugonna to score and to play well on both ends of the floor," Dunphy said. "When he gets the chance to get to the foul line, he needs to step up and make those shots as well. We need U badly." The Quakers also need a win badly. And tonight, as they step back into their home gymnasium -- a new, fancier Palestra -- they'll be looking to finally get on a winning track.Comments powered by Disqus
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