Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Roots II

In the end, the Ivy League men's basketball season came down to this: Of all of the teams (TigerBlog thinks it's 31) that win an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, only one - Harvard - did so without playing.

Hey, TB has been around Ivy basketball for a long time, and last night was the weirdest moment he's experienced.

Here you had a Princeton-Penn game that figured to force Princetonians to decide if they'd rather have Penn or Harvard win the league's automatic bid, since a Penn win would have forced a playoff between the Quakers and Crimson.

In the end, every Princeton fan basically came to the same conclusion that Pete Carril did Saturday night, when the Tigers were finishing off Brown, when he essentially said that he would never root for Penn to beat Princeton, no matter who it helped or hurt.

As Douglas Davis said: "I didn't feel right letting Penn share the Ivy League title and win it on our home floor. Our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard, they're good, but our rivalry is with Penn. Harvard, they won the Ivy League, but Penn wasn't going to win it on our court."

Even the contrast between the two Princeton-Penn games this year was weird.

Game 1 - Princeton shot 68.4% from the field in the first half and 57.8% for the game.
Game 2 - Princeton shot 64.7% from the field in the first half and 58.3% for the game.

With nearly identical offensive numbers, Princeton lost Game 1 by 17 and won Game 2 by 10.

There were two differences between the two games.

In Game 1, Zach Rosen went off from the opening tip until he was done, putting up 28 points on 10 for 18 shooting, including 4 for 7 from three. Just as importantly, Tyler Bernardini added 14 in Game 1 on 5 for 9 shooting.

In Game 2, Rosen scored 18 points, but he jacked up 24 shots to get them. Bernardini, slowed by a foot injury, was 1 for 6 for two points in 22 minutes.

Between them, they had 42 points in Game 1. They had 20 in Game 2.

In the end, TB had nothing but admiration for the two Penn seniors. Bernardini has had huge games against Princeton in his career, and Rosen basically carried his team this year to the brink of a league championship.

It was hard to watch in the last few minutes, as an exhausted Rosen tried valiantly to bring his team all the way back while Bernardini had to watch from the bench. And when it was over, there was just the hard reality their shot at ever playing in the NCAA tournament was gone.

For that, TB felt a little empathy.

It was senior night at Jadwin, and as the Tigers honored Davis, Patrick Saunders and John Comfort, it was sort of like on the Oscars, when last year's Best Actor gives out this year's award.

Here were the Tigers, out of it, about to help decide who would be in this year.

And when the ball went up, it was somewhat surprisingly easy to put aside the whole Harvard/Penn angle and foot for the Tigers. It was just the normal thing to do. Whatever happened was beyond Princeton's control, but the Tigers did have a game to play and they played it well.

In the end, there was the fact that Princeton came to the end of the 2011-12 season playing as well as any team in the Ivy League. If there was an Ivy tournament - TB is against it, obviously - Princeton would have as good a chance as anyone.

And really, what did Princeton in this year? Well, there was the loss at Harvard that could have gone either way, and if that one game changed and everything else stayed the same, then it'd a three-way tie between Princeton, Penn and Harvard right now.

But that's not what TB points to. Nor is the loss at Yale.

It's the opening day loss at Cornell, which really put Princeton in a play-from-behind, no-margin-for-error situation for the entire season.

And then there was the fact that Princeton had to play its first Penn game on the Monday after exams, after a 16-day layoff, at the Palestra.

Yes, Penn played a great game that night and clearly deserved to win, but as last night showed, Princeton wasn't itself the first time around. Had the Tigers been on in their rhythm for that first game, who knows how much different everything the rest of the way might have been.

Instead, it's congrats to Harvard and admiration for how hard Rosen played.

And a lot of pride for the home team.

In the end, here's all the reason you needed to root for Princeton last night: With the win, the Tigers keep their lead over Penn for all-time Ivy titles, 26-25.

And the knowledge that next year can't start soon enough.

1 comment:

Tad La Fountain '72 said...

The best of Ivy athletics was demonstrated last night - after the game, when the two teams shook hands. Instead of just a perfunctory handshake or fist bump, Rosen and Hummer stopped and hugged. The gesture spoke volumes about the respect that's engendered by great competition. And that's after a game where at one point early in the second half my classmate sitting next to me (who has watched even more Tiger b/ball games than I over the past 45 years) turned and said exactly what I was thinking - "This is like watching a heavyweight bout."