DURHAM, N.C. The last time the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team played the No. 1 team in the land, the result was a 33-point loss.
Wednesday night, a full decade later, the Quakers faced another No. 1 squad in Duke. This time, they acquitted themselves much better.
Facing one of the most hostile environments in the country Cameron Indoor Stadium and its “Cameron Crazies” Penn was able to hang with the top-ranked Blue Devils, who threatened to pull away numerous times but could never shake the pesky Quakers. In the end, the result was 72-59 in Duke’s favor.
Penn (3-3) trailed by as much as 13 in the first half before going into the break down, 34-24. In the second stanza, Duke (8-0) built its lead as high as 19 on a few occasions, but the Quakers drew back within 10 and answered the Blue Devils’ runs with their own streaks the rest of the way.
Of particular note was the play of Penn guards Ibrahim Jaaber and David Whitehurst, who combined for 31 points and seven of the Quakers’ eight three-pointers. Whitehurst was particularly effective beyond the arc, draining 5-of-7 treys including four after the break.
Penn was undone by 26 turnovers, though, and shot just 39 percent from the field much of that a result of Duke’s tenacious half-court defense. The Blue Devils had problems of their own offensively, however, committing 17 turnovers. Interestingly, the Quakers outrebounded the nation’s No. 1 team, 34-27, grabbing 14 offensive boards to Duke’s six.
Duke was led by its two All-America candidates, J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Redick finished with a game-high 24 points and four assists, knocking down four three-pointers. In the paint, Williams had 20 points, five rebounds and four steals. Sean Dockery added 11 points and came up with five steals. As a team, Duke had 16 thefts in the game and took 26 foul shots compared to Penn’s 11.
Penn struggled offensively to start the game, but so did Duke, and with four minutes gone the Quakers held a 6-3 lead after Jaaber scored on a tip-in and Zoller followed with a layup. Duke scored the game’s next eight points, though, sending Cameron into a frenzy and taking a lead it would not relinquish.
Penn hung around, drawing within one when Brian Grandieri pushed home a layup with nine minutes to play in the half. However, Redick drained a trey, setting Duke off on another eight-point run that made the score 25-16. That lead swelled to 34-21 in the final minute of the half, before freshman Tommy McMahon hit a three-pointer that brought the Quakers within 10 at the break.
Eric Osmundson knocked down a layup for the first points of the second half, but Duke responded with a seven-point run and pushed its lead to 19 on several occasions in the first half of the second stanza. However, the Quakers made a push down, 54-36, they went on a 12-4 run that was sparked by three three-pointers by Whitehurst and a conventional three-point play by Friedrich Ebede (seven points in the game). With six minutes left, the score was 58-48 and some fans were squirming in Cameron.
That did not last long. Williams took a nice pass from Redick for a dunk and was fouled by McMahon. That was the springboard to an 8-2 run that pushed the Blue Devils’ lead back up to 16, a run that was stopped by a Jaaber trey (which snapped a scoreless streak of 2:23 for Penn). However, it was too little, too late for the Quakers.
Penn is off almost an entire week, but things do not get any easier when they return to action next Tuesday No. 4 Villanova comes to The Palestra for a Big 5 showdown. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m., and the game will air live on both CN8 and Comcast SportsNet in the Philadelphia area.