"This is our house." It's a common cheer in college basketball - I've heard it, or at least versions of it, in arenas all over the place. When the "house" in question is the Palestra, though, the "our" part can get ... murky. When you are, at least by tradition, the "home" of five different schools' quasi-conference games, and even certain Drexel alums (ahem) claim you, you know you're out of the ordinary.
I was first put in mind of this unusual situation when I arrived at the Palestra on Saturday morning to watch Maryland take on Temple (thanks, John!).
It was fun to see the mixed group of fans wandering around the place, and I saw more than a little puzzlement from Maryland folks over the permanent displays dedicated to St. Joe's, LaSalle, Temple, and Villanova in the halls.
The evenly split crowd for that game was loud, and for a neutral observer like me, it was a really fun game to watch. It was also a sort of preview of what was to come later that evening when Penn hosted St. Joseph's in Penn's final Big Five game of the season. Although Penn wore white jerseys and didn't have to travel (in fact, they held practice in the gym immediately after Maryland and Temple wrapped up and the ESPNU cameras left), that's pretty much where the "home" aspects of the game ended.
Both bands, both cheerleading squads, both mascots and most importantly both student sections were in the arena.
The ticket sales were, ostensibly at least, equally divided between the two schools, which meant that many Penn season ticketholders like me were dislodged from our usual seats in favor of St. Joe's boosters. The Penn athletic department made a real effort to encourage student turnout for the game, declaring a "white-out" with free t-shirts and dispatching senior guards Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini to various gathering places on campus during the days before the game to encourage their classmates to attend.
All this combined to create a pretty classic Big Five atmosphere, and the two teams on the floor didn't disappoint. They played evenly for the first 10 minutes, then Penn went on a run at the end of the first half to take a surprising 12-point lead into the locker room. The St. Joe's run that everyone anticipated coming out of the locker room didn't materialize, and Penn stretched its lead to 23 points before the under-12 media time out. Finally, St. Joe's put together a run of its own, cutting the lead all the way down to four points with less than five minutes remaining.
It was loud in our house.
The game was close the rest of the way, but Penn's lead held. When Zack Rosen stepped to the free throw line with less than a second to go and the game was finally well in hand, one of the Penn alums in my row tried to get the students to start the chant: "This is our house." It caught on, a bit, but there wasn't much conviction there. No surprise, I guess - this is the Palestra.
(Full flickr set, including Temple student balancing various objects like ladders on his face, here.)
at PENNSYLVANIA 84, SAINT JOSEPH'S 80 01/21/2012
SAINT JOSEPH'S 12-8 (2-3) -- L. Galloway 10-14 6-6 32; C. Aiken 5-9 2-3 13; C. Jones 5-15 3-3 16; R. Roberts 1-3 1-1 3; C. Wilson 4-5 1-2 11; D. Quarles 0-1 0-0 0; H. Kanacevic 2-5 1-2 5; P. Ndao 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 14-17 80. PENNSYLVANIA 10-9 (2-0) -- Z. Rosen 4-11 7-10 16; M. Cartwright 3-9 5-5 12; T. Bernardini 10-14 2-3 24; R. Belcore 4-5 2-2 12; M. Howlett 0-1 0-1 0; H. Brooks 3-4 2-3 8; F. Dougherty 2-5 2-3 6; M. Kukoc 1-3 0-0 3; S. Rennard 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 28-53 20-27 84.
Three-point goals: SJU 12-25 (C. Jones 3-9; C. Aiken 1-3; L. Galloway 6-9; D. Quarles 0-1; C. Wilson 2-3), PENN 8-20 (T. Bernardini 2-5; R. Belcore 2-3; Z. Rosen 1-4; M. Cartwright 1-4; M. Kukoc 1-3; S. Rennard 1-1); Rebounds: SJU 27 (R. Roberts 8), PENN 28 (T. Bernardini 6); Assists: SJU 14 (C. Wilson 6), PENN 15 (Z. Rosen 8); Total Fouls -- SJU 20, PENN 17; Fouled Out: SJU-D. Quarles; PENN-None.