March 2 - This was just the way it was supposed to happen for Penn's seniors.
On their home floor, seniors Ibrahim Jaaber, Mark Zoller and Stephen Danley led the Quakers to an 86-58 victory over Yale to clinch a third-straight Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament berth, and avenge their lone conference blemish of the season, a nine-point loss in New Haven a month ago.
As each player took their piece of the net, and Jaaber took a seat in the cylinder of the home basket, the reality of the moment was still setting in.
"I was dizzy up there," Jaaber said. "I've never been that high before."
But in the wake of such a decisive and hard-fought battle, Penn has to be on top of the world.
Every single thing Penn had done well throughout the season, they did last night. Zoller was the typical dominant force in the paint, going off for 22 points and a season-high 17 rebounds. Jaaber led the offense like a true point guard to the tune of 13 points and seven assists. And Danley, despite playing just 16 minutes due to foul trouble, poured in 11 points and was a perfect 5-5 from the field.
But most important of all, there was a palpable sense of desire in each and every possession. The Quakers chased down rebounds - winning the battle on the glass, 45-22- and shut down the Elis' offense, holding them to just over 35 percent from the floor.
"I knew they were ready," said coach Glen Miller, who will be going to his first Division I NCAA Tournament as a head coach. "They played their hearts out right from the time they threw the ball up."
Point guard Eric Flato scored just 11 points on 4-12 from the field and turned the ball over five times. And Casey Hughes, who torched the Quakers for 15 points and 13 rebounds last time, was virtually a non-factor. The swingman was held to four points and committed three turnovers in just 19 minutes of play.
"We wanted to take him out [of] the game as best we could," Zoller said.
Last night, this seemed to be a recurring theme - the way it controlled the game, Penn seemed to be able to do anything it wanted.
Penn 67, Brown 64
March 3 - Penn's second game with Brown this year - a day after clinching the Ivy League title - wasn't even close to anticlimactic.
Penn overcame 16 turnovers and 16 points from Brown's Damon Huffman to hold on for a 67-64 win at the Palestra in the Quakers' final home game.
Penn needed a big-time outburst from Jaaber to do it. He scored an uncharacteristic 22 points - including a 6-for-6 effort from the line - despite putting up a goose egg in his five three-point attempts.
Brown coach Craig Robinson saw his 1-3-1 zone stymie the Quakers after they ate it up in Providence earlier this year. This time around, the zone forced Penn's big men away from the basket and forced turnovers when Penn tried to drive inside off the dribble. Penn had more turnovers than assists for one of the few times this year.
But though Robinson said the small contingent of Penn fans not yet home for break didn't compare to the raucous crowds he remembers from playing at Princeton, his return to the Palestra was spoiled.
"I missed [the fans] being here, but this is still a hard place to play. They're the best team in the league," Robinson said.
Miller was not so complimentary. Penn's coach was not shy about laying into his team.
"It was very disappointing to me to experience a game like that after last night," Miller said. "You could say we were set up for it, but I don't see any reason for it."
His concerns were justified, but Penn helped put his mind at ease a few days later.
Penn 64, Princeton 48
PRINCETON, N.J., March 6 - There would be no worries this year about a 15-seed.
The men's basketball team did what last season's Ivy-champion squad couldn't - close out the season with a win against Princeton. The overtime loss last time around weakened Penn's resume enough to eventually seal a date with powerhouse Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the two-win Tigers were shadows of their past, as a sloppy game on both ends of the court practically gave Penn its 13th Ivy win, 64-48.
After a back-and-forth opening 13 minutes, Princeton was only down 17-15. But from there the Quakers took over - going on an 11-2 run to end the first half, and a 12-2 run to seal the deal with over 11 minutes remaining.
The Red and Blue dismembered their archrivals by getting to the basket against the matchup zone defense.
The Quakers hit 23 shots, and 19 of them were layups. Zoller had eight layups in total (three in the first 3:03 of the second half) for a total of 23 points on nine for 13 from the field and five of seven from the line. Jaaber and Brian Grandieri added 10 points each on the offensive end, and combined for six steals on the other.
And while 64 points is usually good enough to win in a slow-paced game, Princeton's sloppiness around the basket gave the game away.
The Tigers shot a reasonable five for 15 from three, and caught some Penn defenders off-guard with backdoor cuts, but missed 12 layups, nine in the first half.
The Quakers made some mistakes as well - turning the ball over 12 times for only 11 assists as well as allowing some open shots on the defensive end - but the effort was more than enough to top Princeton.
And now that they have won their third straight Ivy title, Penn's seniors hope they have more than one game left.
"That's out ultimate goal we've set out since we were freshman," Zoller said. "That's what we want to do, come in and play in the Tournament and ultimately win a game and make some national noise."
-Josh WheelingComments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.