NEW HAVEN, Conn. -With 13 minutes left in Friday night’s game at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team was in great position toward getting yet another NCAA Tournament bid. The Quakers were up 45-30 on the Bulldogs; meanwhile, in Providence, Brown held a significant lead over Princeton.
Penn barely held on, 57-55. Brown won going away, 61-46. The combination means that the Quakers can order their dancing shoes-- for the second-straight year, Penn is the first team in the nation to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Quakers (11-1 Ivy) now hold an insurmountable three-game lead over the second-place Tigers (8-4) in the Ivy standings with just two games left to play.
Penn has now won 10 Ivy League titles under head coach Fran Dunphy, all of them since 1993. The Quakers will be making their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance under Dunphy-- again, all of them since 1993 -- and their 22nd overall (21st since 1970). Penn will find out its opponent the first-round site next Sunday, March 12, during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show.
Friday night’s win hardly came easily for the Quakers (19-7, 11-1 Ivy), who led by 18 points at one juncture in the second half and were ahead by double digits with seven minutes to play. However, only a missed desperation attempt by the Bulldogs (15-13, 7-6 Ivy) allowed the Quakers to escape the John J. Lee Amphitheater with the narrow victory. It was Penn’s first win in this venue in three years.
Penn was up just 55-53 with less than a minute to play. At that point, Mark Zoller had the ball taken away by Nick Holmes, but almost immediately the Quakers got it back when Ibrahim Jaaber came up with a steal of his own. After working the shot clock down, Brian Grandieri had a shot at the basket but missed; however, Zoller came up with a huge rebound that forced Yale to foul.
Steve Danley was the man the Bulldogs put on the line, and after a timeout he proved equal to the task by dropping both straight through the net to give Penn a 57-53 lead with 11.3 seconds left. Yale brought the ball down, and took 10 full seconds before finally getting a jumper from Ross Morin.
All that was left was for Penn to inbound the ball to end the game. Instead, Grandieri’s inbounds pass went over Eric Osmundson’s head and into the hands of Dominick Martin, who whipped a pass to Eric Flato-- who had already drained three treys in the night. From the top of the circle, Flato had just enough time to catch the pass, turn and fire up a 20-foot prayer all in one motion. The prayer was not even close to answered, though, and the Penn contingent was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
That sigh, of course, turned to complete euphoria about 15 minutes later when the Brown-Princeton final was announced, giving Penn the title outright and the NCAA bid.
Zoller had a monster game for Penn Friday night, nearly getting a double-double by halftime and finishing the contest with 14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and four steals. Osmundson battled through shoulder troubles and ended the game with 15 points, while Danley had 12 points, seven boards and three assists.
For Brown, Martin had 18 points and seven rebounds, Flato went for 13 points and six assists, and Morin finished with 12 points (all in the second half).
Penn got off to a quick start Friday night, playing like the Ivy front-runners they have been all season. The Quakers were up 9-2 after five minutes, 22-11 midway through the opening half, and 31-14 with nearly six minutes still to play in the opening stanza. By halftime, though, Yale had been able to get back to within 33-21.
The Quakers’ lead crested at 18 (41-23) when Osmundson hit a layup with 15:56 left in the game, and was still 15 with 12:45 to play.
Penn and Brown will meet Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Bears’ Pizzitola Sports Center. The game will be televised live on the YES Network.