Game 010: at Pennsylvania 65, Bucknell 52Wednesday, December 1, 2004
The Palestra - Philadelphia, PA
As anyone who goes to one of its affiliated schools (or anyone who's read The Last Amateurs
) can tell you, the Patriot League was created primarily to give Ivy League schools some early-season football competition. The original founding principle was that student-athletes would not be treated differently from the just-plain students, and that nobody would get special scholarships that recognized athletic ability. Just like the Ivy League.
With one exception (Lafayette
is the lone holdout), all the Patriot schools now offer some type of scholarship opportunity to their student-athletes. But besides the differences in general "prestige" and volume of member-school logo sweatshirts sold on a national basis, the Patriot and Ivy are still a lot alike. Both are stocked with players with mad SAT and Academic Index scores. Both are geographically concentrated in the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. And both feature a brand of hoops that relies heavily on the ground attack, where the ball rarely gets more than four feet off the floor at times when it's not being shot. The object of the game is to go around, not over - on the occasions when it's played well, it can be a beautiful sight. However, it's something of an acquired taste for the spectator, much like international grand-master chess.
So when the PL's Bucknell
and perennial Ivy contender Pennsylvania
played this past Wednesday night at Philadelphia's High Church of Basketball (a/k/a The Palestra), everyone from the paying public to the scalper I talked a free ticket out of to radio listeners all over the Keystone State knew what kind of game it was going to be. Everyone except the officials, that is.
A quick Google search showed that Dan Anderson, Rich Giallella and Wally Rutecki are all local refs who have each had considerable experience calling PL games, so they couldn't possibly have had the excuse that they were unfamiliar with what happens when Ivies and Patriots collide. Perhaps they just haven't worked with each other before, but they spent the game hunched over, whistles in mouths, giving each other darting and unsure glances. They were seemingly at a loss as to how to regulate contact.
The game never got into anything resembling a flow, and there was never a real indication as to which kinds of touching were bad and which types Zebra Daddy approved of. Yes, there were fouls - 43 in all, most of them of the ticky-tack hand-checking variety. Fouls on the perimeter, fouls inside, fouls away from the ball. Fouls on guards, fouls on bigs. But when it was unclear who had touched whom (if anyone had done so at all), the thumbs went up and a jump ball was called. I counted seven instances of this, and was certain that the switch on the possession-arrow box would short out and just plain explode.
I mean, when was the last time you went to a game with seven jump-ball calls?
The general weirdness and the incessant shrill whistles clearly rattled the Bucknell squad. The tentative Bison, their knees locked and legs straight, went 6 for 23 from the floor in the first half, turned the ball over a lot, and found themselves facing a large and looming early deficit. Penn stayed cool, rotating in fresh bodies to absorb the foul damage, and easily scooped away offensive rebounds - 17 in all over the course of the game.
Penn led 38-20 at halftime and had the student section chanting "we want cheesesteaks," in reference to the promotion by Abner's of University City that offers all in attendance a free celebratory steak when the Quakers hit triple digits. But on the very first play of the second half, with Penn inbounding, Bucknell's waterbug point guard Abe Badmus
stole the ball, gained about 20 feet of daylight, and softly laid it up and in.
This was the moment when the momentum shifted. It drew a loud "hauhhhph" from the home crowd, a large-scale sucking of oxygen from the atmosphere, the kind of gasp that indifferent fans pay hundreds of dollars to experience when Michael Jordan or LeBron James visit their cities. It triggered a 17-5 run, and the small clutch of Bucknell faithful who had taken advantage of the $2 flat-fee "tollworkers' strike special" on the Pennsylvania Turnpike started getting buck wild. Their en-masse "charging Bison" salute, which consists of balled fists against temples with index fingers extended, led one Penn fan to query: "Who do they think they are, the Duke Blue Devils or something?"
Chicago product Ibrahim O. Badmus looks to me like someone who could end up torching the Patriot League much like Lehigh's
Austen Rowland did last year. He moved extremely well without the ball, tearing huge holes in Penn's man-to-man and forcing bad switches, then communicating the mismatches to his teammates. Shooting guard Kevin Bettencourt, who had a game-high 16 points, will undoubtedly owe him dinner on many occasions this season.
Abe's also got a sweet touch, as he hit a key three-pointer with eight to go in the game during the ultimately-futile comeback effort. But it was the refereeing inconsistencies that ended up doing Badmus in, as he was called for four borderline reach-ins and spent half the contest on the bench. Freshman and local Philly product John Griffin did yeoman's work filling in, but it was clear that he was in over his head.
But in the end, Bucknell's jumpers stopped falling, and the Penn team shot just well enough to keep the lead in double digits for the rest of the game. The Bison did outshoot the Quakers 38%-34%, but the first-half hole they had dug themselves into was just too deep to climb up and out of.
I wasn't that impressed by Penn 6-9 sophomore forward Ryan Pettinella the last time I saw the Quakers play, but on this night he provided some real zing and spark off the bench. His fingers seemed as like coated with movie-theater butter against Quinnipiac
three weeks ago, but he looked active, mobile and hungry while diving into the lane after missed shots. He was also the only Penn player to shoot 50% from the floor, going three for six, and added five rebounds in 13 minutes of action gained through another Jan Fikiel disappearing act.
Penn went with three guards for most of the game, probably because the similarity in average height between the two teams allowed them to. Fan favorite Ibby Jaaber had 14 points, senior Tim Begley added nine, and Eric Osmundson hit a couple of big threes during the first half surge on his way to eight. But all three shot woefully (Jabber: 4 of 12), and they were overreliant on their bigs' ability to haul rubber - unfortunately, these are boards that will not come against bigger and tougher competition. Brown's
added some bulk this year - will the Quakers be able to hold the Bears off for Ivy League second place?
January 29, the Palestra. I'll be there, maybe even with stripes on.Photo Gallery