Dan Harrell has mopped the Palestra floor before each of the last 14 Penn-Princeton games in Philadelphia It's no surprise, then, that Harrell -- a Penn institution who graduated from the University in 2000 after 10 years of taking classes -- predicted that the Quakers would defeat the Tigers by 10 points last night. He was right. Exactly. The final score was 65-55, Penn. Harrell, the venerable Palestra custodian who mops the floor in blue shorts and gold shoes before and during every game, said that he'd rather be at the Palestra for a Penn-Princeton clash than at the Super Bowl. Funny thing is, he's probably not the only one. There's just something about Penn, Princeton and the Palestra. It's a perfect fit, really. "There's not a better place to play basketball," said Penn junior swingman Jeff Schiffner, who scored 18 points and shot 4-of-7 from three-point range last night. "The crowd was real ready to go. It's such a great experience for everyone involved." Well, maybe not everyone. Will Venable, Princeton's talented sophomore shooting guard, scored precisely 11.7 points less than his season average (11.7 points per game). Classmate Judson Wallace had as many points as fouls (four). And the Tigers' leading scorer, Spencer Gloger shot an abysmal 3-of-14 for the game after missing all of his first-half attempts. Still, he was Princeton's leading scorer with 12 points. "This is a great place to play," Princeton head coach John Thompson III said. "Yes, we'd like to come here and get a win, but it's a great place to play." You sure about that, Coach? Yes, it's true that Princeton has beaten Penn four of the last six times at the Palestra, but last night the Tigers just looked flat-out scared. They made a nice run in the second half to get back into the game, even taking a two-point lead with 11:44 remaining. But when the Quakers controlled a loose ball that touched at least five different players and Ugonna Onyekwe capitalized with a thunderous dunk over Konrad Wysocki, the Palestra was rocking and the game was over. That play gave the Quakers a 49-40 lead with 5:25 to go. Penn's victory was not in doubt after that, as Princeton never again got within eight. "It's Penn-Princeton and that adds something to it," Onyekwe said. "The crowd was great, it was a great environment. "It lifted me, and I'm sure it lifted the rest of the team." Onyekwe, who led the Quakers with 22 points and 12 rebounds, even showed some fire, jabbing with the officials and constantly calling for the ball in the post. That's what Penn-Princeton at the Palestra can do -- inject emotion into an emotionless player. "It's awesome," Penn senior point guard Andrew Toole said. "The crowd was so into it from 7:00 on. The intensity on the court is only matched by the intensity off the court. Having the home fans really put us over the top." The fans, indeed, began to trickle in at 7:00 p.m., but two hours before that it was just Harrell and his mop on the floor of college basketball's most historic gym. And as he picked up trash and cleaned out all the locker rooms and made sure the floor was squeaky clean, he confessed to feeling a bit nervous. "Imagine that," he said. "A janitor with butterflies." Hey, how can you blame him? It's Penn-Princeton. Everyone gets caught up in the rivalry. "If you don't get up for Princeton, you've got no blood in your veins," Harrell said, rushing around the halls of the Palestra and talking just as fast. "You don't belong on this campus."Comments powered by Disqus
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