As Penn's Ivy League schedule started last week, it seemed that Ibrahim Jaaber was all out of quality guards to match up with him.
But in the Quakers' 93-92 win over La Salle at the Tom Gola Arena last night, junior guard Darnell Harris gave Jaaber one more challenge and struck some serious fear into the healthy Penn student section.
The Explorers took an eight-point first-half lead behind 20 from Harris, who was draining threes at will. But as Harris cooled down a bit - he hit just two of six from deep in the second half and didn't score in the final six and a half minutes - so did La Salle, and the stage was set for Jaaber and the Quakers to strike back.
The senior ensured that he and his classmates would go undefeated against the Explorers in their collegiate careers. Jaaber's six points and pair of highlight-reel assists to senior forward Mark Zoller in the final five minutes brought the Quakers back, and his runner in the lane with 11.6 seconds to go sealed the deal for Penn.
The heroics were a necessity to keep Penn from dropping its first two Big 5 games.
Harris nailed six of his eight attempts from deep in the first frame, prompting a defensive switch from Quakers coach Glen Miller, who brought in freshman guard Darren Smith to cover the sharpshooter.
"When you let a guy like Harris get going," Miller said, "it's tough to stop him."
Unfortunately for Harris and the Explorers, Jaaber picked the right moment to take over.
As always seems to be the case, though, he was accompanied every step of the way by his partners in crime.
Sophomore guard Brian Grandieri contributed 18 points to the cause, including an acrobatic and-1 in the lane with just over a minute to play.
Zoller dropped 28 points on 12-for-19 shooting from the field and notched 10 rebounds, picking up the slack left by fellow senior Stephen Danley, who was limited to just two points in 23 minutes before fouling out late in the game.
"Zoller and Ibby are just shockingly good," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "They take the right shots, they make the right passes. These guys are the epitome of playing the game the right way.
"Those guys play every possession like their life depends on it."
And last night, in a way, it did.
After a sub-par stretch against nonconference opponents over winter break, the Quakers couldn't
afford to lose last night - not to a team they had beaten five times in a row, and not to a team with three freshmen in the starting lineup.
But Jaaber, Zoller and the rest of the Quakers were not living up to Giannini's praise in the first half. Miller believes La Salle's first-half run may have been just as much due to Penn's lack of effort as Harris's brilliant shooting.
"I was thoroughly disgusted with our lackluster defensive performance in the first half," Miller said. "Between the post play for La Salle and Harris's perimeter shooting it was difficult for us to get a handle on them."
Buoying Harris throughout the game was freshman guard Rodney Green, who slashed through the Quakers' defense for 22 points and inspired several "He's a fresh-man!" chants from the La Salle student section. Sophomore Paul Johnson added 17 off the bench on 7-for-11 shooting.
But in the final 20 minutes, Penn's veteran presence trumped the Explorers' youth.
The Red and Blue went to their bread and butter, relying on their seniors to do the job, a game plan the Quakers will likely utilize when they finish out their Big 5 schedule and embark on the thick of their Ancient Eight slate.
"Down the stretch, I guess I know want the ball in either myself or Ibby's hands," Zoller said. "I know we're going to make the play just because we've been . through so many of these games.
"We just feel like we should step up and make those big shots, and tonight we did."Comments powered by Disqus
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