About six weeks ago, I watched some real, live basketball in the Palestra for the first time since that school in New Jersey knocked off the Quakers to force a rare Ivy playoff with Harvard. However it wasn't Penn, or even college kids that took the floor that night, it was the big boys of the NBA putting on a scrimmage between team Philly and Team Melo (Baltimore). It was dubbed the Battle for I-95, and the local NBA talent from Philadelphia knocked off Team Melo, a team featuring some of the NBA's biggest stars. It was a fun experience, and a welcome opportunity to sneak into the Palestra earlier than usual, yet an NBA game doesn't satiate my appetite for exciting college basketball.
I love the start of the season. In what I'm calling The Real Battle for I-95, the season of University of Pennsylvania began Friday night against the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Thanks to an unusual 7:30pm tip, I was able to make the trip south down I-95 to the Retrievers Athletic Center with my lovely Penn alumna after work and be there for the tip.
Sitting behind the Penn bench I could hear the enthusiasm for the coming year. Penn fans, mostly alums (not a whole lot of Penn students in attendance) are optimistic about the future of the Quakers and the direction young head coach Jerome Allen is guiding his team. Penn has a lot of returning firepower and experience in the backcourt with POY candidate Zack Rosen rare 5th year senior Tyler Bernardini. The question for Penn will be how the youth in the frontcourt will perform with the loss to graduation of the ultra-reliable Jack Eggleston.
Penn started the game strong, jumping out to a quick double digit lead behind strong outside shooting and about ten turnovers by UMBC in a ten minute span. However, poor free throw shooting and a weak showing on the boards by Penn kept UMBC in the game. The Retrievers were able to capitalize and they finished off the half only down three.
The Quakers came out firing in the second half, quickly building a double digit lead and UMBC never really threatened again. Whatever coach Allen said at halftime seemed to inspire more activity from the Quakers on defense and they cleaned up their rebounding issues and held the Retrievers without a three pointer for the game. Maybe it was less what the coach said and more Dau Jok and others on the Penn bench leading the chants of "DE-FENSE" from the sidelines, dueling admirably with the chest-painted UMBC student section. Maybe it's because my usual seat at the Palestra is not behind the bench, but I can't recall ever seeing the bench lead the crowd in chants. Love it. Unfortunately, their chants worked too well. The defense held UMBC to 45 points, well below the 75 points needed for the crowd to get 15% of their order at Grilled Cheese & Co.
Penn would go on to win the game 59-45 behind a monster 26 points from Zack Rosen and win The Real Battle for I-95 for Philly. They are back at home on Monday to take on Big 5 rival Temple and former Penn head coach, the mustache-less Fran Dunphy. Although this was The Real Battle for I-95, I am grateful for the other Battle for I-95. Through that game I was able to get a sneak peak of the updated Palestra.
The BOOBA-less era at the Palestra is about to begin.
PENNSYLVANIA 59, at MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 45 11/11/2011
PENNSYLVANIA 1-0 (0-0) -- Z. Rosen 10-16 2-2 26; T. Bernardini 3-10 3-5 10; M. Cartwright 1-6 2-5 4; F. Dougherty 3-8 1-3 7; M. Howlett 2-2 3-3 7; R. Belcore 1-4 0-0 2; M. Kukoc 1-3 0-0 3; C. Crocker 0-2 0-0 0; P. Lucas-Perry 0-0 0-0 0; D. Jok 0-0 0-0 0; C. Gunter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-51 11-18 59. MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY 0-1 (0-0) -- J. Getz 1-4 2-3 4; C. Plummer 5-14 5-9 15; B. Neller 1-8 2-2 4; J. Wertz 2-8 2-2 6; J. Wasco 2-2 0-1 4; A. Satchell 2-5 0-0 4; W. Wise 1-1 0-0 2; Q. Jones 0-2 0-0 0; C. Thomas 1-3 1-2 3; N. Basalyga 0-0 0-0 0; J. Wejnert 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 16-48 13-21 45.
Three-point goals: PENN 6-18 (T. Bernardini 1-6; Z. Rosen 4-6; M. Cartwright 0-4; M. Kukoc 1-2), UMBC 0-11 (B. Neller 0-6; J. Wertz 0-3; J. Getz 0-1; Q. Jones 0-1); Rebounds: PENN 29 (T. Bernardini 6), UMBC 37 (C. Plummer 9); Assists: PENN 13 (T. Bernardini 4), UMBC 6 (J. Getz 3); Total Fouls -- PENN 22, UMBC 16; Fouled Out: PENN-None; UMBC-None.