PHILADELPHIA - There was not much difference between Penn and Harvard at The Palestra Friday night, except for one thing: Penn had a guy on the floor who played a key role in each of the Quakers’ last two Ivy League championships.
With Friday night’s game in the balance and only a few minutes remaining, Penn head coach Glen Miller knew exactly who to go to: that guy.
As a result, the Quakers downed the Crimson, 73-69.
Brian Grandieri is the senior captain and leader of this year's Penn team, after starting for the Quakers' last two Ivy champions. He was a second-team All-Ivy selection last year.
Friday night, on consecutive possessions with the Quakers down, 67-66, and less than three minutes to play, Miller tried to get him a post-up mismatch. The first time, Grandieri drew a foul call and drained both foul shots with 2:22 to play, giving Penn a 68-67 lead. Following a Harvard turnover, Miller called Grandieri’s number again, and this time the senior floated in a soft baby hook under the bucket against an overmatched Harvard guard, pushing the Penn lead to three with 1:52 left.
Harvard’s Drew Housman missed a three-point attempt on the Crimson's next possession, and then Penn’s Jack Eggleston put back a missed shot by Tyler Bernardini that made the score 72-67 with just over a minute to play. That effectively ended a taut affair at The Palestra.
Penn’s win was its 22nd in a row at home against an Ivy League opponent, and pushed its winning streak at home over Harvard to 16 games. The Quakers (6-12, 1-0 Ivy) also won their Ivy opener for the fourth year in a row.
Harvard fell to 6-13, 1-2 in the League.
This was a solid win for Penn, which had three freshmen on the floor for a majority of the second half playing their first Ivy League games. Bernardini led all scorers in the contest, with 20 points. Grandieri nearly finished with a double-double, scoring 15 points and snaring nine rebounds to go with four assists. Eggleston had eight points, six boards and four dishes in his first Ivy League outing.
For Harvard, Brad Unger scored 17 points and had four rebounds before fouling out. Dan McGeary came off the bench to score 15 points, while Evan Harris nearly put up a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Harris was also involved in a bizarre play in the first half, when he locked up with Justin Reilly and appeared to throw him to the ground. The force of the throw put both players on the floor, at which point Harris jumped up and appeared ready to attack Reilly. He immediately caught himself, but the damage was done -- Penn's Andreas Schreiber and Brennan Votel rushed off the bench to tend to Reilly, and as a result were thrown out of the game for leaving the bench area.
Reilly --who needed five stitches in his head after his fall -- was called for a personal foul on the play, while Harris was given an intentional foul.
Both Schreiber and Votel are eligible to play tomorrow night’s game, as they did not come off the bench to fight.
Penn led almost the entire first half, building up as much as a nine-point advantage late in the stanza before Harvard used a 5-0 run to draw within 35-31 at the break. In the second half, Harvard got its first lead with 16:59 to play when Andrew Pusar hit a layup that made the score 38-37. Penn responded with a 12-3 run that pushed its lead to 49-41 with 14 minutes to play.
The Quaker lead was still six with 10 minutes to play, when Harvard reeled off a 7-1 tear that tied the score, 56-56. Eggleston and Grandieri hit buckets to give Penn a four-point edge, but Kyle Fitzgerald finished a feed from Harris and then Jeremy Lin drained a trey that gave the Crimson a 61-60 advantage with just under six minutes to go.
Bernardini quickly got Penn back in front with a pair of foul shots, and then Grandieri again shook free for a layup that made the score 64-61. However, Housman made good on one of two free throws, and then Unger hit a trifecta that put Harvard up 65-64 with four minutes to go.
Kevin Egee got into a paint for a floater that put Penn back in front, but after a TV timeout Lin matched those points with a pair of free throws.
As soon as Penn got the ball on offense, it became obvious who Coach Miller was looking for on the floor. His senior leader responded.
Penn is back in action Saturday night, hosting Dartmouth -- a 57-53 loser at Princeton Friday night -- at 7 p.m.