Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Rivalry Reborn

TigerBlog's intro to sports media came at WXPN during his undergrad days at Penn.

The sports staff those days included Scott Graham, whose original claim to fame was that he could do a great imitation of the Phillies' Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas. Graham would make a name in broadcasting in his own right, as he went on to be the voice of the Phils himself for awhile and now can be heard almost everywhere, including on NFL Films, Westwood One's NFL studio show and college basketball games on all kinds of networks.

Graham was teamed with Rob Kennedy last night on Comcast's telecast of the Princeton-Penn men's basketball game. For those who missed it, Penn rallied from 13 back to force overtime on Tyler Bernardini's clutch three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation, only to fall to the Tigers 62-59 on a game that ended with some bizarre twists.

As an aside, Graham and Kennedy are an exceptional team. They are understated, without any screaming or shtick, and they do a great job presenting the games they do.

After the game last night, Graham sat in the Jadwin bleachers and talked about old times with TB, while Kennedy listened. Eventually, Graham said that he wouldn't mind going back to those times, if only for a few days.

Kennedy laughed and said maybe for a few weeks. Then Graham admitted reality, that he couldn't go back.

The Princeton-Penn rivalry? That's another story.

For decades, the two (and sometimes three) Princeton-Penn games decided the Ivy League men's basketball championship and NCAA tournament bid. Period.
From 1963-2007, either Princeton or Penn represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament every year except for three: Columbia in 1968 (after defeating Princeton in a playoff game), Brown in 1986 and Cornell in 1988.

Then, in each of the last three years, the title belonged to Cornell. Even more amazingly, in the three years that Cornell won, either Princeton or Penn finished sixth or lower each time.

That's part of what made last night's game even more special than just a dramatic win for Princeton. Graham, before talking about going back to his college days, mentioned that the game was "anything but boring," and he was certainly right about that.

The game certainly didn't lack for drama or controversy.

Princeton led the whole way, building a double figure lead in the first half, leading by as many as 13 with a little more than six minutes to play. Then Penn mounted a comeback, finally tying it when Bernardini swished his long three after a great out-of-bounds play freed him up without ever giving Princeton a chance to foul, if it had wanted to do so.

Penn led for the first time when it scored the first three points of the overtime, but Princeton didn't go away.

Ian Hummer got a lucky bounce to score to make it 59-58 with 45 seconds to go, giving Princeton its first points of the OT. With a 10-second difference between the shot clock and game clock, Penn had a key possession, but when Jack Eggleston attempted to call a timeout to maintain possession, Penn was hit with a technical foul because they had none left.

To TB, it was ironic, because of the way timeouts just kill the end of close basketball games. Last night, for instance, there were five called team timeouts in the final 2:16 of regulation alone, and then another called by Penn with 38 seconds left in OT before the phantom one with 16 seconds left.

No wonder a player lost track of how many timeouts his team had left. To a player, it must seem like there's a never-ending supply.

Princeton made enough foul shots, and Penn made enough mistakes (the non-timeout, the turnover on the subsequent inbounds, the missed layup) to give Princeton the win, 62-59.

The result is that Princeton is now 5-0 in the league, staring at seven of its final nine on the road. Harvard is 5-1; Yale and Penn have two losses each.

Of course, winning this championship will not be easy for Princeton, not with a season that ends with games at Harvard on Saturday, March 5, and at Penn Tuesday, March 8.

Regardless, though, it was clear that Princeton and Penn have both made it back to the upper echelon of Ivy basketball.

Back in 1988, after Brown and Cornell had both won league titles, it seemed like the Princeton-Penn domination of Ivy basketball might have ended.

Then what happened? Princeton won in 1989 and then nearly knocked off Georgetown. Two years later, the Tigers were in the national Top 25. Penn then put together a 42-0 league mark from 1993-95. Princeton then beat UCLA and got to the national Top 10 two years later. Penn then had some more dominant teams, while Princeton won two more titles. Back and forth they went, until Cornell took over.

It's possible that looking back in 20 years, the Ivy League titles in men's basketball will be spread out among four or five teams.

Or, just maybe, Princeton and Penn are where they were back in 1989, when both teams reloaded to dominate for nearly 20 more years.

Surely they both have the right coach in charge, with the great sidebar of the lifetime rivalry that Sydney Johnson and Jerome Allen are taking to another level.

If it all plays out that way, then last night's game will be remembered for a lot more than just a timeout that didn't exist.

It'll be remembered as the night the Princeton-Penn rivalry was truly reborn.

1 comment:

William said...

great post! i agree with everything you wrote, especially teh comments about teh two head coaches. didnt realize teh Tiger Blog author was a Quaker. the current WXPN announcers are also first rate - they have fun with each other and make the game more interesting to listen in on. thankfully, Princeton upgraded its announcer lineup a few eyars ago.