PHILADELPHIA - The Penn and Drexel men's basketball teams enter the 2007-08 season with plenty of questions, andperhaps predictablythere was a lot of interest in Friday night's opener as they faced each other at The Palestra.
Talk about starting the season off with a bang. The Quakers and Dragons could not settle things in regulation -- instead, it was overtime before Drexel was able to assert itself (again, as it turned out) and gain a 67-59 win.
It marked just the thirdtime Penn has gone overtime ina season opener, and the first since a 93-91 double-overtime loss to Navy at the start of the 1988-89 season. (The other was a 26-24 OT win over Saint Joseph's to tip off the 1928-29 campaign)
The performance the teams put on Friday was hardly a work of art -- it was indicative of a pair of teams that lost several key elements from successful teams last year, and are starting fresh with young, inexperienced players. For example, there were 36 turnovers, andthe teams shot barely 50 percent combined from the foul line. At times, it was a wonder trying to figure out exactly who wanted to win this thing.
And yet, when it was over, the sentiment could be summed up by something that was overheard on press row: "for a bad game, that was a really great game."
Thatmuch wastrue. What the game lacked in aesthetics, it certainly made upfor in drama.
For the Penn fans among the 6,656 in attendance, the high point came right at the end of regulation. That was when senior Michael Kach missed a free throw (of course), which was rebounded by senior Brian Grandieri who missed the putback in traffic (of course).
Enter Jack Eggleston.
The freshman claimed that, prior to tonight, he had never played a game before more than a few hundred fans. With the clock nearing triple zeroes, he grabbed Grandieri's miss and put it in the hoop, tying the game at 52-52. Drexel only had time for a 70-foot desperation that never had a chance, and we were headed to overtime.
Eggleston's improbable bucket -- thepunctuation on an equallyimprobable Penn comeback -- turnedThe Palestra into an absolute explosion ofnoise. Welcome to college basketball, kid.
Howcrazy was the concept of this game going to overtime? Consider that Penn had not led in the game at any point in regulation, and in fact Eggleston's basket just created the second tie in the contest -- the other being0-0.
Penn would tie the game one more time in the extra session, when Grandieri hit a pair of free throws with 2:23 left to make it 57-57. However, Drexel's Gerald Colds knocked down a three-pointer -- his second in OT -- and after an Eggleston turnover Evan Neisler knocked down a silky jumper in the lane to make it a five-point game with 1:20 left.
Penn was forced to run a lot of clock on its ensuing possession, and the result was a trey attempt by Kach that was off the mark. That seemed to be the Quakers' final punch, as the Dragons put five more points on the board before Grandieri finally hit a layup at the buzzer togive this game itsfinal score.
The story of this game may not have been about the final result, however, as much as it was about the journey.
Drexel was simply dominating in the opening half. The Dragons scored seven of the game's first eight points, and blew out to a nine-point lead before the game was six minutes old. With Tramayne Hawthorne leading the way (16 first-half points), Drexel knocked down six ofits first seven three-pointers, consistently finding holes in Penn's myriad zone defenses, andexpandedits lead to 13 by the break, 37-24.
Penn head coach Glen Miller spent the first 20 minutes searching for a quintet that would keep his team in the game. The Quakers were put behind the eight-ball early when Grandieri -- far and away Penn's most experienced player -- picked up two fouls in the first 2:01 of the contest and was forced to sit. In all, 13 different players saw the floor for the Quakers in the opening stanza, and all of them played at least four minutes.
The second half may have been the start of the maturation process for this young squad. Certainly, if you were a Penn fan, you had to walk out of The Palestra Friday night excited by the way this team scrapped its way back into this thing.
Drexel scored the first four points of the half, jumping its lead to 17, before the Quakers began chipping away at their deficit. It was 12 with 16 minutes to play; eight with 10 minutes to go; and then, suddenly, it was44-39 with 8:47 to play when Grandieri knocked down a layup off a Harrison Gaines pass, got fouled, and hit the freebie. The Dragons responded with a trey by Colds, but Grandieri hit another layup to make it a 47-41 game with 7:39 left.
It would be nearly five minutes before another point was put on the board, as both teams showed their inexperience in a game of this magnitude -- the period was marked by turnovers and missed shots, many of them badly. Eggleston ended the drought with 2:45 to play, when he draineda three-pointer from the left corner.
Drexel came back down, ran through its offense, and got a jumper from Neisler to re-up its lead to five points. Turnabout was fair play, though -- Penn ran its offense, and the result was a trey by junior guard Aron Cohen that made the score 49-47.
Neisler missed a foul shot soon afterward, and on Penn's ensuing possession Grandier was fouled inside. He hit the first but missed the second, keeping the Quakers from tying the game with just 1:08 left. The miss grew even larger when, with the shot clock nearing its conclusion, Coldslived upto his name by coolly bottoming out another three. That made the score52-48 with just 34 seconds left, and the Quakers seemed left for dead.
Penn quickly got the ball down the court, and Grandieri again drew the foul. He missed the first but made the second, and then after a timeout the Quakers fouled ScottRodgers on the inbounds. Rodgers missed thefront end of the 1-and-1, givingPenn life, and they made the most of it when Kach was fouled going after the rebound of amissed trey by Cohen with just five seconds left. He made the first and missed the second, setting up Eggleston's heroics.
After his early pull in the first half, Grandieri came back and was everything a senior leader should be in the second half -- he scored 16 of his game-high 23 points after the break, and also came up with six of his 10 rebounds as he collected the fourth double-double of his career. In addition to Cohen's 12 points, Eggleston finished his first collegiate game with seven points and eight rebounds. Another eye-opening performance came from junior Cameron Lewis, who got his first collegiate start and filled the box score with four points, two rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and two steals in 19 minutes.
For Drexel, senior center Frank Elegar recorded a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Hawthorne and Colds had 18 points (Colds' on six three-pointers, Hawthorne's enhanced by four treys).
Penn is back in action Sunday afternoon, traveling to Baltimore to take on Loyola in the first game of the Philly Hoop Group Classic. Tipoff is slated for noon.