Game #8-800: Pennsylvania Quakers at Harvard CrimsonFebruary 25, 2012 7:00 pm
"May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair
Show an affirming flame."
September 1st, 1939, W.H. Auden
I don't know Zack Rosen, the man. I don't know what he is like away from the bright lights, how he studies for finals, or acts at campus parties during the off-season. As much as I could infer about his character from his conduct on the court, I'd really just be guessing. What I can judge him on, however, is his performance in the three years I have watched him play at Penn. And I can say that in this domain, he is one of the players I admire most.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
The first time I really saw Rosen, not just watched him play, was Penn's epic Double Overtime game against Harvard last season. Harvard triumphed 83-82 in a game more seasoned observers than I have deemed the best game at the Palestra in recent memory, but Rosen was the reason why the game even made overtime. He tied the game in regulation, hit a buzzer beater in the first overtime period, and ended the game with 19 points, 13 assists, and 5 rebounds.
After the game, in the tiny, overcrowded media room underneath the Palestra bleachers, journalists attempted to get the game's participants to put it into some historical context. The one who refused to do it was Rosen. He sat with his head on his hands, speaking in a voice so low it was hard to hear. It was clear what the game had meant to him: it was a loss, pure and simple. I cannot recall the exact quotes, but I'm fairly confident the words "it hurts" were uttered.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
The game meant a lot more to Penn fans, however. It is hard to overstate how low the Quakers program had been laid when Rosen started his career. A program not accustomed to losing went 10-18 in Rosen's freshman year, and after an atrocious start to the 2010 season, went so far as to fire Coach Glen Miller at the start of Ivy play. In a league such as the Ivy, that is an almost unprecedented move. The fact that, one year removed from that drastic measure, the Palestra was almost full and certainly rocking as Penn battled the league co-favorite basket for basket was a sign of hope and a testament to the will of Rosen and new coach Jerome Allen.
The 2011 season ended on an up note, but the Quakers were by no means favorites heading into the 2012 Ivy season. The roster, outside of Rosen, was full of question marks. Penn lost star post Jack Egglston, and had very little depth returning inside. How would the Quakers prosper without the ability to play strong inside?
The answer, for most of the season, was that Zack Rosen would not let them lose. I do not mean this in the cliched sense, I mean it literally. Rosen played 38 minutes per game, and scored or assisted 48 percent of the Quakers' points.
After a loss to Harvard early in the Ivy season, the Quakers had no margin for error. Another loss would end their Ivy Championship dream. Against Dartmouth at home, Rosen hit a 28-foot buzzer beating three to seal the win. The next Friday, Rosen scored 12 of Penn's last 15 points to close out Cornell, and assisted on the other three. The very next night against Columbia, he hit the free throw to send the game to overtime, where Penn would triumph. Finally, at Dartmouth the next Friday, Rosen scored his team's last 16 points, including two free throws in the dying seconds, to beat the Big Green.
I mean no offense to the rest of Penn's team. Their efforts do not go unnoticed, and they have aided in the program's rebirth. But there is no doubt that the fact that Penn entered Saturday night's game against Harvard with the chance to tie for the lead in the Ivy League with three games remaining is attributable to the play of Zack Rosen.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
Fast forward to the second half of the Harvard game. The chance Rosen and Penn fans have waited four years for is slipping away. Brandyn Curry, Harvard's point guard and the best defensive guard in the Ivy League, has hounded Rosen for 30 minutes as soon as he brings the ball over half court. With 7 minutes to go, Rosen has nine points and the Penn deficit is nine.
But then Rosen gets to the free throw line for the first time in the evening. He then finds Henry Brooks for a layup. The lead is seven. With four minutes to go, Rosen comes over a pick on the left side of the floor and Curry gives him just an inch of space. Rosen rises and flicks his wrist. The lead is two.
Then Jerome Allen makes the decision of the season. Instead of running pick and rolls for Rosen with a Penn big man, a play Harvard has defended well all game, he has Miles Cartwright, Penn's other guard, set the pick so Rosen can get switched off Curry. Allen then calls for an iso, putting the ball in the hands of Rosen. It's his show, and he deserves it.
With three minutes left, Rosen gets isolated, drives right, crosses to his left, and hits a tough fadeway jumper. The Harvard lead is one. With ninety seconds remaining, Rosen repeats the very same play, this time hitting an even tougher fallaway from 16 feet. Harvard still leads by one. After Penn gets a stop, Rosen has the ball with 30 seconds remaining.
At that moment, the noise in Lavietes Pavillion was deafening. I'd wager Zack Rosen did not hear a thing. He faked right, and drove left, beating his defender and drawing a shooting foul. He calmly knocked down both free throws. Would you expect anything less? Penn leads by one.
Harvard gets two great looks at the basket, including a dubious charge call on Kyle Casey that negates what would have been the winning basket, and Penn, improbably, had won at Lavietes. Jerome Allen's men had ended Harvard's 27-game home winning streak. Zack Rosen, of course, had scored Penn's final nine points.
Of course, in our game, fairytale endings rarely happen. Penn would go on to lose at Princeton, handing the Ivy League title to Harvard. On that night at Jadwin, Rosen's shots did not fall as they had the whole season, and the Quakers fell by double digits.
Zack Rosen's "failure" to get his team into the NCAA Tournament is one of the biggest achievements I have seen in college basketball. To bring his team from the depths of the worst seasons in recent program history to the brink of the promised land through his effort, talent, and will is inspiring. I am sure that Rosen often felt, as Auden put it, "beleaguered by the same negation and despair" that must thrive in struggling basketball teams. The walls of the Palestra serving as a constant reminder of the legacy his teams were not fulfilling. Yet, through it all, he showed an affirming flame, and in 2012, brought Penn basketball back.
I was devastated when Penn beat Harvard on that February night. I knew how Zack Rosen felt in that interview room in the Palestra one year earlier. I am glad to say I was able to witness his triumph.
|PENNSYLVANIA 55, at HARVARD 54|
PENNSYLVANIA 17-11 (9-2) -- M. Cartwright 3-6 2-2 8; Z. Rosen 6-14 4-4 20; R. Belcore 1-4 2-2 5; T. Bernardini 2-4 0-0 4; F. Dougherty 3-5 0-0 6; S. Rennard 2-3 2-3 6; H. Brooks 3-4 0-0 6; M. Howlett 0-0 0-0 0; M. Kukoc 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-41 10-11 55.
HARVARD 24-4 (10-2) -- B. Curry 2-6 1-2 5; O. McNally 1-4 4-6 6; K. Casey 3-6 6-9 12; K. Wright 1-3 7-7 9; W. Saunders 5-6 0-0 10; L. Rivard 3-6 0-0 8; C. Miller 0-2 0-0 0; S. Moundou-Missi 1-2 2-2 4; C. Webster 0-1 0-0 0; J. Travis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-36 20-26 54.
Three-point goals: PENN 5-12 (R. Belcore 1-2; Z. Rosen 4-7; M. Cartwright 0-1; M. Kukoc 0-1; S. Rennard 0-1), HARV 2-11 (O. McNally 0-3; B. Curry 0-2; L. Rivard 2-4; C. Miller 0-2); Rebounds: PENN 15 (F. Dougherty 4), HARV 24 (K. Casey 6); Assists: PENN 7 (R. Belcore 4), HARV 13 (B. Curry 5); Total Fouls -- PENN 20, HARV 14; Fouled Out: PENN-H. Brooks; HARV-None.
© 2004-2014 The Mid-Majority. All content is the property of its authors.