There were a couple of different Penn-Princeton games going on Monday night at the Palestra. One was a battle, typical of the rivalry. A first half that featured exquisite shotmaking. A second half that got down to business, bodies flying. Penn pulling out to a lead, Princeton continually getting back in it.
Separate from all that - above it all - Zack Rosen made the 225th renewal of Penn-Princeton memorable, as the Quakers pulled away for an 82-67 victory in front of 6,835, breaking the Tigers' five-game hold on the series.
Pick a Rosen highlight: There was the time Penn's senior point guard split two defenders, then split two more before arriving at the rim. There were a couple of the deep NBA three-pointers he specializes in. Late in the game, Rosen was up top and saw Quakers guard Steve Rennard open in a corner, feeding him for a three.
The special part was that Rosen gave it a no-look pass. It wasn't a showboat move. The non-look gave Rennard the split second he needed to get the shot off with a defender flying at him.
"You thought he played well?" Penn coach Jerome Allen asked of Rosen's 28-point tour de force, bringing up Rosen's two turnovers, the time he "over-penetrated" in the first half and got a pass tipped, a crosscourt pass he threw in the second that ended up in the stands.
We'll put "over-penetrated" in quotes because usually when Rosen keeps going past the point of no return, something interesting is about to happen, maybe a little crossover in traffic, then a bounce off a defender. A wiggle through an opening nobody else sees.
"Now it's to the point where I expect it," Allen admitted.
Allen felt it was his task to frame the stakes for his team. Allen had written a letter to "My Fellow Quakers" published Monday in the Daily Pennsylvanian, thanking the student body for its support, getting "college basketball's most storied arena rocking again." He also challenged students who have been showing up to bring three or four friends who haven't been showing up.
"I'm not big on looking for extra motivation," Allen said. "The reality is, you tend to give more when you know other people care. It's not necessarily about yourself.''
When you think Ivy League hoops, Penn-Princeton at the Palestra is as big as it gets. But Allen said he took the pregame talk in Penn's lockerroom in a different direction.
"I had one question - 'What's your motivation, why do you play the game?' " Allen said, mentioning all the Penn-Princeton hype, adding, "Is that what you're playing for? Or are you playing to get a number up in the rafters after the season?"
The Quakers now are 3-0 in the league, with a Yale-Brown road weekend next, then undefeated league favorite Harvard coming to the Palestra the following Friday, Feb. 10.
"I've got to watch what I say, because we were 3-0 last year, sitting at this same table, and we were 3-4 four games later at this same table," Rosen said at the postgame news conference.
"Three and 0 is great. But like Coach said, it's really 14 games one time," Rosen said, looking over at his coach. "Or what did you say? Something like that?"
"We're not trying to win 14 games," Allen said. "We're trying to win one game 14 times."
"So we're going to try to win one game . . ."
"John Chaney," Allen interjected.
"I disrespected him," Rosen said.
"Yeah, you disrespected John Chaney."
"I said, 'I've got to watch what I say,' " Rosen said.
Here's another reality: The coach knows he has a special player doing special things, which brings more responsibility on him as a coach.
Only his wife hears as much from him, Allen said, "and she would say I'm married to Zach as well."