Zoller's Free Throws Beat Temple, 76-74

Watch the final dramatic moments courtesy of the Penn Sports Network

Box Score

PHILADELPHIA - Wednesday night's Penn-Temple basketball game began with a standing ovation from the Palestra crowd, acknowledging former head coach Fran Dunphy as he emerged from the Temple locker room prior to tipoff and shook hands at center court with his successor, Glen Miller.

It ended with the Penn student section, the Red and Blue Crew, storming thecourt after the Quakers pulled out a 76-74 win.

In between, the Quakers and the Owls penned an indelible chapter into the Big 5 and Palestra annals.

How dramatic and emotionally draining was this game?Consider that the students rushed the courtbecausePenn defeated, by two,a Temple team that is now 7-11 overall and has lost seven of its last eight contests. It still just felt right; it was that kind of night.

Penn won despitefalling behindby 19 in the first half,still trailed by 10 at the start of the second half, andwas down by eight as late as 7:15 left in the contest. The Quakers led at 5-2; their next lead did not come until 68-66 with 3:07 left in the game. Perhaps most amazing in this game, the final 46 secondssawthe lead change handsfive times.

Mark Zoller -- who was recruited by Dunphy, and played three seasons under his tutelage --wore the hero's crown on this night. After Temple's Dionte Christmas knocked down a jumper with eight seconds left to give the Owls a 74-73 lead, Penn's Ibrahim Jaaber rushed the ball down the court, got into the lane, and kicked the ball out to his onrushing teammate.

Zoller went up for a jumper outside the three-point arc and was fouled by Temple's Dion Dacons. With just 1.4 seconds left on the clock and The Palestra crowd of 6,103 holding its collective breath, Zoller later admitted, "to be honest, I’ve never been more nervous in my entire life. My knees were shaking."

Swish.

Swish.

Swish. (ok, maybe a little back rim)

Temple was unable to get anything more than a prayer from about 70 feet that didn't get close, touching off the wild celebration at center court.

The win was Penn's fifth in a row, and second in a row in the Big 5. More importantly, it allowed Zoller, Jaaber and Steve Danley -- the Quakers' trio of four-year seniors -- to finally get a win over the Owls after three near-misses.

"Playing against Temple and beating them for the first time is pretty special for us," said Zoller. Jaaber echoed his sentiment, saying, "it’s definitely an accomplishment for me as a senior. We’re on a winning streak right now, we’re playing with confidence, and we hope to keep itgoingagainst Saint Joseph’s (Saturday)."

Zoller's clutch performanceput an end to yet another classic city contest, one of those games that left you walking out of Penn's venerable building wondering if maybe there really is some kind of magic spiritin residence. This was arguably the most anticipated Penn game in the old barn in recent memory, and it more thanlived up to its billing.

"That is why I took this job," saidPenn's John R. Rockwell Head Coach of Men's Basketball, Glen Miller, who saw his team improve to 11-6 overall and 2-1 in the Big 5. "It’s a different atmosphere than the other Ivy schools, no offense to them. But to have games like these on our schedule is great. The second half was more like a Big 5 game, from what I’ve been told. It was a lot of fun, though --the atmosphere and the competition. It was a terrific college basketball game."

The storyline coming in, of course, was the return of Dunphy, who took the Temple job last March after leading Penn to 310 wins, 10 Ivy titles and nine NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 years as the Quakers' mentor. How would he be hailed by the Penn faithful? How would he and his staff -- all Penn staffers just a year ago -- handle coaching against the 15 guys he had brought into the Penn program? How would the Penn players deal with all the questions of going up against their old coach?

"We didn’t talk about (Coach Dunphy’s return) at all," said Miller, who will actually go through a reunion of his own on February 2 when the Quakers travel to Providence, R.I. to take on his former team, Brown University. "I took the approach of, if the guys wanted to talk about it, we would talk about it;if they didn’t, we wouldn’t.

"For me, I’ve said time and time again, I’ve know Coach Dunphy for seven or eight years now. It’s a difficult situation for him to come in here and play against players he coached, players he recruited. My heart goes out to him."

"It felt great, absolutely great," said Dunphy. "I coach college basketball, and what an unbelievable experience that is in an environment like this. I was talking to someone about this game a couple days ago, and he told me to shut up and enjoy it. I just made a decision at that point --I was kind of fighting it,but thenI embraced it and let it happen. It was a fun night. I was so proud of our guys."

It was certainly fun if you were Temple fan early on. In fact, it was Christmas time.

After Penn scored the game's first five points on a Kevin Egee three-pointer and a pair of Danley free throws, the Owls got on a roll. Dionte Christmas, in particular, was on fire. He scored Temple's first eight points to give the Owls the lead and was the catalyst to a stunning run that absolutely silenced the Palestra crowd.

A 10-0 Temple run turned a 14-10 game into a 24-10 contest.

A five-point run turned a 24-16 game into a 29-16 bulge.

Another five-point streak turned a 33-19 advantage into an overwhelming 38-19 doubling, as Christmas knocked down his fourth trey of the half.

"This is the first game we didn’t come out calm and collected," said Miller. "We just couldn’t get a handle on them. I thought we got the ball in the lane, we just couldn’t score more. We weren’t converting."

At that point, Penn -- which made just three of its first 20 shots -- finally started converting. The veteran Quaker squad got a jump-start when Jaaber (21points, seven assists on the night) got free underneath and emphatically slammed home a dunk. Brian Grandieri knocked down a three-pointer off a Temple turnover, and then Jaaber went on a personal 9-0 run that brought the Quakers within 38-33.

"We got off to a difficult start, but we believe in our system, and believe in each other," said Miller."The momentum came."

Christmas once more quieted the crowd right at the end of the half, knocking down -- you got it -- his fifth trifecta of the stanza (on six attempts) as the buzzer went off. That gave thesophomore 19 first-half points as he went 7-of-8 from the field overall. Christmas then started the second half with another layup, pushing Temple's lead back into double digits.

Penn tied the game at 46-46 on a Jaaber trey, and got within one point on three occasions immediately after that. However, it looked like Temple might withstand all of the Quaker runs when Dacons got free for a layup, Christmas hit two foul shots, and then Dustin Salisbery knocked down a trey. That gave the Owls a 61-53 lead with nine minutes left.

As has been the case of late, Penn refused to wilt. Four minutes passed before the Quakers made their run, but it inevitably came. With his team down, 66-60, and five minutes to go, Jaaber got a layup, then another off a Zoller feed less than a minute later. Zoller got the crowd in a frenzy when he drained two free throws, once again tying the game, then blew the roof off with a layup off a Jaaber feed that gave Penn its first lead in 35 minutes, 68-66.

Christmas leveled the score with two foul shots, then Salisbery got a layup on the Owls' next possession to put them up, 70-68.

Jaaber knocked down one of two free throws with 2:13 left, making it a one-point game, and then more than a minute went off the clock. In fact, only 46 seconds were left when Grandieri put Penn back in the lead with two foul shots. His efforts were matched by Christmas at the other end, and the score was 72-71 in Temple's favor with the game clock inside of 35 seconds (shutting off the shot clock).

Miller chose the quick-strike route, and after a shot was rejected by Temple's Sergio Olmos and went out of bounds the Quakers ran a perfect inbounds play that left Zoller open in the lane. The senior rolled the ball over the front rim and in, giving Penn the 73-72 lead.

Temple also chose not to hold for the final shot, as Christmas made good on a jumper for his 33rd and 34th points of the night. However, that merely set the stage for Zoller's pressure free throws.

"I thought our defense was much better in the second half," said Miller. "They shot 47 percent, but I felt like we had a better handle on them. We considered as a staff to double Christmas later in the game, but we decided to play him straight up."

Zoller finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, his second-straight double-double and seventh of the season. Grandieri also put up a double-double, just the second of his career, with 16 points and 10 boards. He also had four assists and two steals.

For Temple, Mark Tyndale complemented Christmas with 19 points, but no one else on the Owls' roster scored more than seven.

"Games like thesework both ways," said Dunphy. "College sports are spectacular, andthey teach you so many lessons. I feel really good about my guys and our team, and I think our day will come. We’re going through a tough stretch right now, and this would have been a good game for us to win.

"I’m just a coach,but I’m a privileged, privileged guy.It was a little too much -- the hype before the game --but if you said to me, you could spend every night playing in a Big 5 game, with this intensity, I would cherish it. The fans were great, it was a great atmosphere, and I’m a privileged guy to be coaching college sports. It was a great game."

Penn closes out the Big 5 campaign Saturday night, taking on Saint Joseph's at The Palestra. The game is the Quakers' final non-Ivy League game of the regular season. Tip time is slated for 7 p.m. for the game, which has been sold out for awhile now.