Nail-biting games have come to define Penn basketball’s Ivy League season so far. Four of the Quakers’ first six conference games went to overtime and three of those six were decided by three points or less.
But the Quakers dropped three of those overtime contests in consecutive losses to Harvard, Princeton and Cornell. This weekend, though, Penn was able to close out two wins that came down to the wire, pulling away from the Bears in the final minutes Friday and putting Yale away with just 2.3 seconds left on Saturday.
Even more impressively, the Red and Blue pulled that off on the road, snapping a seven-game road losing streak and sweeping an Ivy road weekend for just the second time since 2007.
So what was the difference between this weekend’s ‘W’s and those four deflating defeats?
Two things stand out: first, Penn built double-digit leads in the first half of each game this weekend, while it fell behind by similar margins during those losses. Second, as a result of the point margin, the Quakers had the energy to clamp down more effectively on defense down the stretch.
After each of the team’s three straight OT defeats, coach Jerome Allen emphasized the difficulty of closing out games after exerting so much energy erasing large deficits. This weekend, his club switched it up on the Bears and Bulldogs, and experienced life with a lead.
“Especially when you’re playing back-to-back games, you can’t put yourself in a position where you have to exert a ton of energy to come back in the second half,” senior co-captain Jack Eggleston said after beating Brown. “That’s no way to be successful.”
“It was nice to be in the other position for once,” senior Tyler Bernardini added.
The Bears managed to climb out of a 14-point hole early in the second half behind four three-pointers, three steals and a noticeable increase in defensive intensity.
Yet after all that, they only pulled ahead by one with 4:36 in the game, and Penn promptly executed a 16-4 run to seal the victory.
One sequence by Zack Rosen during that stretch epitomized the Quakers’ victory. After knocking down a three, Rosen jumped a passing lane for the steal, raced down the court, drew a foul and nailed both free throws. The play pushed Penn’s lead to eight, but more importantly, turned the momentum back in its favor.
The Red and Blue won because of such defense and because of Brown’s sudden cold shooting — partly a product of tired legs after pushing so hard to come back.
“Tonight we got stops when we needed to get stops,” Allen said. “That’s what allowed us to continue to increase the lead.”
The story was the same against Yale, only much more dramatic. Allen didn’t call Rosen’s game-winning basket with 2.3 seconds remaining the play of the game, but rather bestowed that honor upon junior center Mike Howlett. The Bulldogs had three shots to take the lead on the possession before Rosen’s heroics, but Howlett emphatically rejected a layup by Yale’s Austin Morgan to set up the decisive final possession.
“We don’t even get to Zack making that shot if Mike Howlett doesn’t come up with the block,” Allen said. “It was huge.”
NOAH ROSENSTEIN is a senior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is former Online Managing Editor and Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is dpsports@theDP.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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