This was the game everyone came to see. And as the Arena started to fill up, my buddy Travis was afraid that the real ticketholder of the seats we were in (I held a ticket for this section) would eventually show up. So he had scoped out a place where some James Madison fans had been sitting in the earlier game and we moved there. The strategy seemed sound, but it was ultimately flawed. About three minutes before tipoff the real ticketholders showed up. I looked up to see the former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell telling us to get out of his seats. Rendell is quite the basketball fan, I remember him following the St. Joe's Hawks around as they made their run with Jameer Nelson and company in the NCAA tournament a few years ago. So I moved across the aisle to my real seat and Travis went back to the upper echelons of the Palestra. Still I wondered, Do you think I could go to Towson tomorrow and sit in President Obama's seat?
The finale featured the Penn Quakers on their home court against the above the Red Line Pitt Panthers. The Panthers had struggled a bit early in the season. They were the victim to a Red Line upset earlier when Long Beach State knocked them off in Pittsburgh. They also had struggled a bit with Rider and La Salle whom I had seen earlier in the day.
So when I saw two Pitt starters, Lamar Patterson (2-game suspension) and Dante Taylor (migraine - I felt for the kid) in street clothes before the game visions of another Red Line upset certainly danced in my head.
But the Panthers brought reinforcements, of the 6,843 in attendance it seemed more than half were there to see the Panthers. Other than the governor the game also brought out the local stars. Former Pitt running backs LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis, both with the Philadelphia Eagles were both in attendance.
Freshman Khem Birch was also part of that reinforcement. He's one of the top newcomers in the country but his minutes have been limited in the early going. He took full advantage of the opening. In his first start he scored 15, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. He's full of talent and he goes very hard to the offensive glass. Not sure he scored outside of three feet, so I can't say whether or not he's going to be a player away from the basket. But he has the ability right now to block shots and rebound at the top level. Still at times he looked confused in Jamie Dixon's defensive sets, so its easy to understand why playing time has been limited thus far.
Still, I was most impressed with Penn senior guard Zack Rosen. The lefty knocked down six three-pointers and anytime Pitt seemed to get some separation, Rosen stroked a three to draw the Quakers back into it. He finished with 22 points.
Pitt led the whole way but Penn wasn't ever really out of it until about ten minutes left. At that point there were two loose balls at the offensive end that it appeared Penn had corralled but somehow ended up in the hands of Panther players. Three-pointers resulted in both possessions and when the dust had settled the Panthers held a 12-point 59-47 advantage with 9:42 left. That was too much for the Quakers to overcome.
In the end, Pitt won the game by 20 points and will face Robert Morris back in Pittsburgh on Sunday night to try to complete the tournament at 4-0 and be the only team to finish undefeated.
So as I walked out of The Palestra after 3 games and nearly 7 hours later, I was left with only one real question. Should I come back tomorrow?
PITTSBURGH 78, at PENNSYLVANIA 58 11/25/2011
PITTSBURGH 4-1 (0-0) -- N. Robinson 6-10 2-4 14; A. Gibbs 6-15 0-0 16; T. Woodall 3-5 1-1 7; J. Moore 5-9 1-2 12; K. Birch 6-8 3-5 15; T. Zanna 4-4 0-0 8; J. Johnson 1-2 2-2 4; C. Wright 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 31-53 11-16 78. PENNSYLVANIA 3-3 (0-0) -- Z. Rosen 8-16 0-0 22; M. Cartwright 3-10 0-2 6; T. Bernardini 4-9 4-5 14; R. Belcore 2-5 2-2 7; M. Howlett 1-3 0-0 2; H. Brooks 1-3 0-4 2; F. Dougherty 1-1 0-0 2; C. Crocker 0-1 0-0 0; C. Gunter 1-2 1-2 3; M. Kukoc 0-1 0-0 0; P. Lucas-Perry 0-0 0-0 0; S. Esprit 0-0 0-0 0; D. Jok 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-52 7-15 58.
Three-point goals: PITT 5-12 (A. Gibbs 4-6; T. Woodall 0-2; J. Moore 1-3; J. Johnson 0-1), PENN 9-24 (T. Bernardini 2-7; R. Belcore 1-2; Z. Rosen 6-10; M. Cartwright 0-4; D. Jok 0-1); Rebounds: PITT 29 (K. Birch 10), PENN 28 (T. Bernardini 5); Assists: PITT 19 (T. Woodall 7), PENN 9 (Z. Rosen 4); Total Fouls -- PITT 14, PENN 15; Fouled Out: PITT-None; PENN-None.