Game 14: Penn 66, Harvard 60

Harvard's Lavietes Pavilion is tied with Oregon's MacArthur Court as the second-oldest college basketball arena in Division I.

SOMEWHERE IN MASSACHUSETTS, RHODE ISLAND OR CONNECTICUT -- In other words, I'm on a train back to Philadelphia after covering Penn's hard-fought 66-60 win over Harvard last night for the Inquirer.

Those of you who've read this blog for a long time know that I occasionally cover Quakers road football and basketball games for the the paper. Last night's game marked the beginning of another season of travel to campuses and basketball arenas across the Ivy League, and I hope to bring you along with me via the blog throughout the next few months.

Because last night's game was Penn's conference opener, I figure it merits a bit more attention than the constraints of print could afford it this morning.

Coming into Ivy League play, Penn and Harvard were considered to be the two teams most able to disrupt Cornell's quest to repeat as Ancient Eight champions. Last night's game proved that theory correct.

Although the 35 combined turnovers between the teams (16 for Penn, 19 for Harvard) left both sides' fans frustrated, there was plenty of intensity and effort to make up for it. Both teams desperately wanted and needed the win - Penn to finally turn its recent improved play into a victory, and Harvard to stay alive in the title race after a shocking home loss to Dartmouth last weekend.

We ended up with a game in which neither team held a lead greater than seven points at any time, and that was early in the first half. The second half featured six lead changes and three tied scores. It also featured the usual display of questionable refereeing, and for all the Penn fans' complaints last night I hope they realize their team benefitted greatly from a non-call and a call that were enforced correctly in tight situations at the end of the game.

The first came when Jack Eggleston called timeout with 22 seconds left after getting an offensive rebound near the baseline in front of the Penn bench. I was across the floor from the play, but as the Daily News recap notes it appeared that Eggleston was starting to fall out of bounds when he made the signal.

However, the NCAA rule book states that a timeout cannot be granted "To a player or coach when an airborne player’s momentum is carrying him/her out of bounds or into the backcourt."

Specifically, it is Rule 5 ("Scoring and Timing Regulations"), Section 12 ("Timeouts Not Granted"), Article 1 (the phrase "No timeouts shall be granted:"), Clause C (the quote above), on page 95 of this .pdf file.

NCAA bureaucracy at its finest, isn't it?

Anyway, note the key word "airborne." At the point when I thought Eggleston was falling, he definitely was not airborne. Therefore, the timeout was correctly awarded.

The second call was the intentional foul on Jeremy Lin for grabbing Kevin Egee's jersey after he got the ball from Zack Rosen and passed it to an unguarded Tyler Bernardini.

The play happened so quickly that the degree of contact varies across the reports that I've read. There's no question that it was a foul, and there's no question that Lin intentionally committed it, but I was surprised it was called as such.

Why? Because there are countless fouled committed intentionally in college basketball at every point in the game that aren't called as such. It could be hard contact on a breakaway layup or it could be a slap on the arm during a shot.

Of course there are fouls called that players don't intend to commit, but think about the number of times you've watched a player commit a foul on purpose that wasn't called intentional. So maybe "intentional" is the wrong word? It's something for us to think about.

(Quakers coach Glen Miller gives his view in the audio player below.)

The second thing to highlight is that two of the three biggest Penn performances last night were delivered by freshmen playing their first ever Ivy League game. Yes, Zack Rosen and Rob Belcore have been through the Big 5, but the bullseye on Penn's back in conference play is a far different matter - even in years when the Quakers aren't favored to win the title.

Rosen scored 15 points, including a pair of three-pointers, dished out nine assists and recorded one steal in 37 minutes on the floor. Belcore scored 10 points and pulled down seven rebounds, including four at the offensive end, and had two assists in 32 minutes.

Belcore's bigger contribution came on defenes, however. He was tasked with guarding Harvard star Jeremy Lin, whose 18.1 points per game average coming into the night was second-highest in the league. You might recall that the senior guard won Line of the Day honors earlier this season after scoring 25 points in an upset of Boston College.

Lin shot only 5-for-10 from the field, including 1-for-4 from three-point range, and committed four turnovers in 37 minutes. He also fouled out, with the fourth coming coming on the intentional foul and the fifth a few seconds later.

(Penn's leading scorer last night, Jack Eggleston, talks about the defensive effort and Rosen talks about the late free throws in the audio player.)

Finally, there's the fact that Penn made eight of its nine free throw attempts in the game's final two minutes. I'm as guilty as many college basketball bloggers are of trying to view the game through a statistics-based lens, but there will always be a significant psychological aspect as well.

It doesn't matter if you're Villanova, Temple, St. Joe's or NJIT. There always comes at least one point in a season where a game of consequence comes down to late free throws, and last night Penn answered the challenge.

Does all of this mean Penn will win the Ivy League this season? Not at all, especially after Cornell blew Brown's doors off last night. It doesn't even mean the Quakers will beat Dartmouth tonight. But it's the clearest manifestation yet of Penn's progress over the last few weeks. And if they beat the Big Green, then take care of Columbia on Friday, it sets up a monster game against the Big Red at the Palestra in a week.

To close out the post, I'd like to give a quick thank-you to Schuylkill 16 voter Zachary Levine and longtime Penn statistician Stu Suss. Both told me that while in Boston, I should check out a restaurant called Durgin Park that's adjacent to famed Quincy Market and Fanueil Hall.

I took them up on their recommendation and it was worthwhile. Durgin's signature prime rib was out of my price range, but the menu is plenty diverse both in terms of variety and cost. Be sure save room for the Indian Pudding as dessert.

And man, do I wish SEPTA was as good as the T. Or even close.

I'll be back Monday with the week's Schuylkill 16 rankings.

Z. Rosen