Men's Basketball: Tigers spoil Penn's title hopes
Those were the words of Penn men’s basketball head coach Jerome Allen after facing Princeton on Tuesday night. The Quakers had everything on the line — a 26th Ivy League championship, a potential playoff with Harvard and their own destiny for an NCAA Tournament bid — and they brought a seven-game win streak to Jadwin Gymnasium. Relegated to third place, win or lose, the Tigers had less to gain from a victory.
But that didn’t matter for the home team, which took control immediately with a 23-6 opening run and never let up. Penn made the game interesting in the second half, but the Tigers’ defense was too much, as they crushed the Quakers’ dreams with a 62-52 win.
Though other rivalries have surfaced in recent years, the Princeton-Penn feud still carries a special aura. And for seniors Doug Davis and Pat Saunders, the fear of possibly ending their final game at Jadwin with Penn celebrating an Ivy League title was more than enough motivation.
“I didn’t feel right letting Penn win a share of the Ivy League on our home court,” Davis said. “Our rivalry goes way back. Harvard ... won the Ivy League, but Penn wasn’t going to win it on our court.”
Both teams had trouble scoring in the first few minutes, as the Tigers struggled to hold onto the ball while Penn could not make shots. Junior forward Ian Hummer started the first offensive run, hitting two three-pointers from opposite sides of the court to put the hosts up 10-2.
That was just the beginning for the Tigers, who scored 23 of the game’s first 29 points, passing the ball and penetrating to find easy layups. Princeton made 11 of 17 field goals in the first half while holding the Quakers to 33 percent shooting, giving the hosts a 10-point lead at halftime. Penn guard Zack Rosen had 11 points at the break, but his teammates combined for just six.
“I just think we executed. We got the ball where we wanted to,” Davis said. “We got out to a good lead, but Penn’s a good team and Rosen’s a good player, they have good pieces, so we knew they were going to come back at some point.”
The Quakers’ inevitable run came right after the break, as Rosen’s support finally came alive. Without the star guard scoring a point, Penn went on a 14-7 run to cut the lead to one possession at 12 minutes, 23 seconds, working the visitors’ sizable fan base into frenzy.
But in a span of three minutes, the Tigers quickly reclaimed control. Hummer and sophomore guard T.J. Bray hit consecutive buckets, and then Davis brought down the house with a three from the corner, extending the lead back to double digits. Princeton’s advantage was never seriously threatened again.
Hummer stuffed tallies in every column of the box score, leading the hosts with 18 points and 10 rebounds while adding four assists, four blocks and three steals. But Princeton’s team success came largely at the other end. Rosen finished with a game-high 19 points, but he needed 24 shots to get there, and Princeton never put him on the free throw line.
“We didn’t play as hard as we could, and we lost,” Rosen said after a long pause, lost in thought during the post-game press conference. One of the league’s best players throughout his four years and the prohibitive favorite for Ivy League Player of the Year, the point guard will graduate without a conference championship.
With Penn’s loss, Harvard will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1946, winning the solo Ivy League title and reaching the tournament a year after Davis’ buzzer-beater denied the Crimson a bid.
Meanwhile, Princeton’s future is uncertain, but the Tigers have a good chance to qualify for one of the lesser post-season tournaments — perhaps not the National Invitation Tournament, but maybe the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“We’re playing well, and we’re well-suited to be competitive in a lot of situations. I’d love to keep playing,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said.
And after experiencing what was likely his last victory at Jadwin in front of a supportive crowd on Senior Night, Davis disagreed with Allen’s assertion that the Tigers had nothing to play for.
“Everytime you step on the floor, you’re trying to win,” Davis said. “We don’t know what our future holds, so we’re just going to play. We don’t know what it is, but I definitely feel like we have something to play for.”