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Bring on Princeton.

Thanks to a dominating 68-47 win against Yale Saturday, the Penn men’s basketball is one step closer to an NCAA Tournament appearance.

On Senior Night at the Palestra it was only fitting that three of Penn’s old guard helped pave the way for the victory. Guard Zack Rosen poured in 20 points, Rob Belcore held All-Ivy Yale center Greg Mangano eight points below his season average as Penn (19-11, 11-2) romped by its largest margin of victory in league play this season.

The win, combined with Harvard’s 67-63 triumph over Cornell on Saturday means Penn needs to defeat the Tigers in its final game on Tuesday to clinch a share of its first the Ivy League title since 2006-07 and force a playoff for an NCAA Tournament berth.

“We [will need to] defend like we need to those 20 minutes of the second half,” Rosen said. “We all know that the game is important regardless of what’s going on, it’s Penn-Princeton. We’re going into Jadwin [Gymnasium] to play for a championship.”

And although tonight was about the seniors, the entire team came ready to play.

The Quakers and the Elis (19-9, 9-5) traded buckets in the early going with Yale taking an early 8-7 lead. However it would be the last time Yale led. Penn went on 10-3 run that began with a Belcore three pointer and ended with a beautiful cross-court pass by Miles Cartwright to find a wide-open Steven Rennard in the corner who buried a trey.

However, it was Penn’s defense that had a standout game. Shortly after Penn’s run, Yale coach James Jones pulled the 6-foot-10 Mangano, who up until that point was having one of his worst games. Belcore, who stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs nearly 20 pounds less, frustrated Mangano time and time again, forcing the big man to work with his back to the basket from near the three-point line.

“We always say we need five guys in action every time when we defend,” Allen said. “It’s probably the most impressive performance I’ve seen in this league the way [Belcore] made Mangano work for everything he got.”

Penn entered the halftime with a 30-22, but came out of the break on fire.

The Quakers opened the half on a 20-2 run that ended any Yale hopes of a comeback. After a Belcore layup, Tyler Bernardini hit a three from the right wing, his only trey of the game, to put the Quakers up 35-22.

Later in the run, Penn’s defense became the source of its offense. Two Penn steals — one by Belcore and one by Dougherty — led to two easy layups by Cartwright and Rosen, who was fouled and would go on to make complete the old fashion three-point play. Rosen kept the momentum going when on the next possession he sank a three forcing Jones to call a timeout with 12:15 remaining.

“We didn’t finish strong enough to complete a lot of plays, which led to them getting out in transition,” Jones admitted. “Reggie Willhite wasn’t himself today, so that was a big part of our [inability] to be successful offensively.”
But Yale couldn’t stop the bleeding.

Penn would push its lead up to 29 later in the half. Belcore drove inside and found Cartwright alone on the arc, who buried the three. Belcore would come back on the next Yale possession with a steal and easy layup giving the Quakers their largest lead in any game in the Ivy season.

“In my opinion it was probably the best 20 minutes of team defense we’ve played all year long,” coach Jerome Allen said of the second half. “The way we just got after guys and contested basket lanes and kept guys out of the middle, it’s really what we’ve been preaching all year long.”

From that point, the Penn cruised to victory and will now look forward to a chance capture a share of the Ivy title on its rival’s floor. Princeton, who is tied for third in the Ivy League with four losses, was eliminated from title contention by Harvard’s victory over Columbia on Friday.

“The irony of it was the situation was reverse last season,” Allen said of Mar. 8, 2011 game at the Palestra where Princeton notched a victory over the Quakers to force a playoff against Harvard for the Ivy’s only automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

“This fits all the clichés that we’ve been saying,” he added.

“It’s a one-game championship.”

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