Game 18: Penn 68, Yale 63

Not so long ago, Penn's annual visit to New Haven was one of the must-see games of the Ivy League season.

For any number of reasons, the Bulldogs have given the Quakers fits at John J. Lee Amphitheater for much of this decade. Even Fran Dunphy's best senior-laden squads got their biggest challenges in the shadow of the gigantic tower over Payne-Whitney Gymnasium, the multi-sport facility to which the basketball arena is attached.

It wasn't just some kind of jinx, though. The Bulldogs (or Elis, depending on who you ask) have been regular challengers  for the Ivy League title in recent seasons, even if they only got to first place once. Their best years drew big crowds to a facility that is the polar opposite of the Palestra architecturally, but can get just as loud just as fast.

But in the last two seasons, the crowds have diminished as Yale has fallen out of the Ancient Eight's upper echeleon. Is it a coincidence that Penn's win last night was their second straight on that floor?

You'd think it has more to do with the players than the fans. But as I looked across the floor and saw a Yale student section that was almost all sitting down, and noticed that the distinctive balconies above the baselines (see the photo gallery) were empty, I couldn't help thinking about what used to be.

In my years covering Penn basketball I have noticed that the team's fans have a tendency to take some things for granted. Beating Yale in New Haven has never been one of them.

You've probably noticed by now that I covered last night's game for the Inquirer. When dealing with the space limitations of print, you don't always get everything in the story you might want. So while I was able to refer to a few big plays late in the game, there was one sequence I omitted that deserves mention.

Penn led 65-63 with 30 seconds left in the game when Yale forward Greg Mangano swatted a shot by Harrison Gaines out of bounds and straight into one of the Penn band's bass drums behind the basket (the drummer was unscathed, though I probably would have freaked out if the ball was coming at me).

Only three seconds remained on the shot clock, and Quakers coach Glen Miller called his final timeout of regulation to draw up a play on his clipboard.

Zack Rosen inbounded the ball to Brennan Votel near the side of the lane about halfway between the free throw line and the baseline, and Votel kicked it out to Tyler Bernardini for a three-point attempt.

The shot hit the rim, resetting the shot clock, and Jack Eggleston tipped the loose ball to Harrison Gaines. Because of the reset, Gaines was able to dribble out towards the perimeter and pass the ball to Zack Rosen, who was fouled by Chris Andrews with 21 seconds left.

"It was kind of nerve-wracking," Gaines admitted, adding that "we kind of got lucky right there."

Of course, it would have put the game away if Bernardini's shot had gone in, but the reset was worth something too. On the whole, credit is due to Miller and his players for how the plan from that clipboard drawing played out, including the work by Eggleston and Gaines to secure the rebound.

If there was any one thing I wanted to make sure got into the print game recap, it was the statistic about Penn ending its two-year losing streak in Saturday night road conference games. Miller seemed a bit caught off-guard when I asked him about it after the game, but he's been in the league long enough to know that the Ivy League's trademark Friday-Saturday back-to-backs are a unique grind.

Until last night, Penn's last Saturday win on the road in conference came on February 24, 2007 - the last such game for the senior trio of Ibraim Jaaber, Mark Zoller and Steve Danley. But it was by only two points over a Dartmouth team which finished that season 4-10 in the league and ranked 298th in Pomeroy. On the road Saturday prior to that, Penn lost at Yale, its only Ivy loss of its last championship season.

I'm not sure a streak like this would be of consequence in any other conference in Division I, especially since it was only four games long. But while the sample size was pretty small, I don't think it was a coincidence.

The other stat I'm glad I got into the print story was Yale's field goal shooting in the first half. I've seen plenty of teams with offenses oriented around two-point shots, but until last night I'd never seen a team play a half of basketball in which every made field goal was scored from inside the paint.

I wonder what St. Joe's fans think of that.

I wrote on Friday that I figured many of you won't ever end up in Providence, and I'm sure even more of you don't have any reason to go to New Haven. But if you find yourself driving by on Interstate 95, the city offers a worthwhile reason to get off the highway - especially if you're hungry.

Though this may sacreligious be for many Philadelphians, I'm not afraid to say that New Haven's pizza scene is among the best in the Northeast.

Schuylkill 16 voter Jon Solomon, who knows the establishments better than I do from covering Princeton basketball for many years, is a fan of Sally's. Others I know swear by by Pepe's. Yorkside, which I visited after last night's game, is right in the heart of the commercial strip on Yale's campus and has a much wider menu than just pizza.

But my personal favorite no longer exists. Naples Pizza, a classic late-night student hangout a few blocks off Broadway (literally), was bought out last year and has been renamed.

Yale's campus is worth checking out in general. The buildings aren't all as old as they look, but all those dark stones convey a pretty strong sense of place and authority. Hockey fans will want to visit Ingalls Rink, whose whale-shaped roof was designed by famed architect Eero Sarinen.

That's enough from me for this weekend. I'll be back tomorrow night with the latest Schuylkill 16 rankings.