Game 047:at Pennsylvania 83, Brown 60 Saturday, January 29, 2005 The Palestra - Philadelphia, PA
When stripped to its essence, the object of our game is to score more points than the opposition. When the contest is over, the point totals of the two competing teams are compared, then the officials declare a victor and vanquished. Wins and losses are the basic building blocks of seasons, seasons add up to legends and legacies.
Within the context of a single game, the most devastating weapon that a basketball team has at its disposal is the "run." During a run, one side amasses points at a rapid rate whilst preventing the other squad from coming anywhere close to matching their output - all of this during an abstract timeframe with bounds to be determined later. Often, a game can be effectively summarized and encapsulated this way: one side had a big 15-3 run, or a huge 20-2 run, and the occurrence of a run is usually a ballgame's undeniable settling point.
On the surface, a run may seem as like a simple series of events: the result of luck, skill and offensive execution on one end of the court, effective defensive disruption on the other. But runs can often be seen and felt and heard. And upon occasion, a run can assume life and psychic shape, reverse fortunes, change destinies.
The 2003-04 version of the Pennsylvania Quakers came to an end, for all intents and purposes, when Brown made its annual visit to the Palestra in mid-February of last year. Penn had won two straight Ivy League championships, and was attempting to shake off two early league losses by running the table down the stretch. But the upstart Bears prevailed 78-74 - the key blow was an 8-0 run late in the first half that erased a two-point deficit, which put Brown ahead for good. Using the blessing of retrospect, those four consecutive baskets killed Penn's entire season.
What's more, the Quakers would be losing three key scoring threats to graduation. And so Penn, a team that ended the season in a tie for second place with those Brown Bears, came into 2004-05 under diminished expectations. Some preseason magazines even went so far to pick them fourth, behind the Bears, league champion and eternal rival Princeton, and most insultingly of all behind Cornell too. Many, myself included, thought that their relative inexperience would be an obstacle too large to overcome, and for nearly two months it was. As the season wore on and the seemingly bad losses ( Illinois-Chicago, Rider) mounted, even the most die-hard of Penn fans began to lose faith as well.
On Saturday night, a smaller-than-usual cadre of Quaker faithful huddled in the beautiful old Palestra, grumbling softly, fearing a repeat of last February. The Quakers were eight and seven on the year, and not even a four-game win streak against inferior competition could cheer their fans. They were steeled for disappointment - after all, Brown had beaten Princeton the night before.
Four minutes and sixteen seconds into the first half, Penn had a slight 9-6 lead as the game made initial hesitant attempts in its search for identity. Brown then brought the ball upcourt, and after a couple of perimeter passes, an eager sophomore guard named Marcus Becker drove the lane. He gave and went with a hulking polar Bear named P.J. Flaherty, and was fouled lightly about the forearm by wild-haired Penn star guard Tim Begley. But before free throws could be shot, the referee pointed towards the radio booth. "Mmmmedia... timeout," the P.A. announcer intoned.
While the Penn band and cheerleaders performed, some of the fans rushed out into the Palestra's corridors for a bathroom break, or perhaps another pretzel. Some sat quietly and ruminated about the game's early moments. Some took part in an "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!" chant led by the Red & Blue Crew behind the west-side stanchion.
When play resumed, the fould shot by Becker, a 54% shooter from the line, hit the front rim and fell to the court as the fans roared appreciatively. The second shot went right through, and Brown trailed by two. Nobody in attendance could have known that a good deal of time would pass before that net would be broached again.
Brown set up in a 1-2-2 hard-trapping full-court press, but the Quakers cracked it open easily with several quick passes. Ibby Jaaber, a speedy sophomore guard and fan favorite, drove into the paint, laid it up and under and in. Eleven to seven, Penn.
"Ib-by Jaa-ber!" the student section called out.
The Bears' backcourt, led by the chromed and polished Jason Forte, made several vain attempts to penetrate on their next possession. When they were able to get a clear shot after 25 seconds, it was a weak hook by Flaherty that fell short. Justin Guarini-lookalike Mark Zoller, his gigantic puff of hair swaying wildly, pulled the ball up from floor level. The Quakers were quickly back on offense.
Jaaber slowed things down into a halfcourt set, raising his hand to give signals - he and Zoller worked the ball to each other out on the perimeter. Forte flailed madly at each, in turn, until Zoller drove violently and sent the ball back out to third guard Eric Osmundson, who jumped high and converted a swishing three-point goal. The Palestra exploded in sound, and their Quakers had doubled their opponents' score.
The next stretch of action was a hard, fierce back-and-forth with no results for either team, save for fouls to count towards the impending bonus. Flaherty was cycled out for bruising Bear Nathan Eades, and coach Glen Miller surrounded him with speed and shooting. Brown began a series of unsuccessful three-point launches: two for Forte, and one for a nervous freshman guard named Mark McAndrew. The Quakers, perhaps overanxious to open the throttle, ran themselves into numerous turnovers via the blocked shot and the steal. Miller changed course suddenly, transferring in more bulk from the bench to capitalize on Penn's backcourt struggles.
Finally, after two minutes of futility, Osmundson pulled up on a fast break from 17 feet, right side...
And the citizens of the Palestra exhaled deeply, letting loose a mighty roar. The scoreboard read 16-7 and the clock 12:25; Brown was wobbling, waiting for the media timeout that might stave off a standing eight-count. Another wild shot from behind the arc, this one by oversized guard Luke Ruscoe, and Zoller ripped down his fourth rebound in as many minutes. Perhaps too eager to deliver a knockout punch, Osmundson was called for a charge underneath the rim, a call that was clearly lost on the nearby swarm of the Red & Blue Crew.
"Ass-hole! Ass-hole!" they chanted, their extended index fingers rhythmic like oil rigs, pointed at the roof and then at the referee.
The home fans were plenty stirred up and getting mighty raucous - when 6'8" Bear forward Mark McDonald pile-drove into two Quakers and was called for a make-up player-control foul, the blast of anger was replaced by palpable relief. That charge turned out to be the clock-stop that triggered the 12-minute media timeout, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for Brown - now even more momentum had been drained.
After the timeout, Ibby Jaaber pulled up over Jason Forte's outstretched arm and drained a 21-foot jump shot. "That's a threeeeee point basket by Penn's number twoooooo, Ibbbbbeee Jabbberrrr!," the P.A. announcer shouted over the din. It was 19 to seven.
And then, a strange whoosh. Along the long, grey bleachers on the north and south ends, people began standing up en masse, as they had not in almost one complete season. Anyone who chose to sit down for the rest of the game would be doomed to stare directly into somebody's rear end. It also seemed as if the attendance had increased by a thousand, and the sharp buzzing cheers echoed in every corner of the arena. The run was becoming an actual object, invisible yet undeniably present.
"Let's go Quak-ers! Let's go Quak-ers!" screamed the student section.
Less than a minute later, under the Penn basket, Forte attempted to save a ball from going out of bounds. But he stepped on the line, and the ball was Penn's. Not before Forte swung a quick elbow, though.
"Ass-hole! Ass-hole!" the students chanted, their extended index fingers rhythmic like oil rigs, pointed at the roof and then at Jason Forte. It would be a call repeated for the rest of the night, repeated within milliseconds of number 40 in brown touching the ball. Thirty seconds after the inbound, Zoller drove past Forte for a layup, and the Quakers had tripled the count at 21-7.
At its completion, that five-minute run was finally classified and booked as 10 to zero in favor of Penn. Its effects lasted for the full remainder of the game - Brown's spirit had been broken early, and each of its futile efforts to gather forces and cut into the lead were quickly doused. As out-of-town scoreboard announcements revealed that Princeton was trailing Yale in the first half, the joy in that ancient hall increased. After nearly a year between Brown games, it the Palestra's residents looked at each other and realized that it was okay to dream again of an Ivy League championship and its resulting Tournament berth.
The hated Princeton Tigers would end up pulling out a win up at Jadwin that night, but Penn still sat atop the Ivy League with a peerless 2-0 record. The Palestra was filled with hope again, the Penn season was alive again... and all it took was a single run.