Monday, January 11, 2016

Quite A Doubleheader

Wow. That was quite a doubleheader at the Palestra Saturday.

The old arena on the Penn campus is no stranger to doubleheaders. It came to prominence as a venue because of the Big Five doubleheaders, which were played there beginning in 1955.

One of TigerBlog's earliest sports-on-TV experiences was watching Big Five doubleheaders from the Palestra. The TV guide used to list them that way - so-and-so vs. so-and-so in a Big Five doubleheader game from the Palestra.

His first trip ever to the Palestra was to for a doubleheader. TB sat in a section behind the basket on the side where you walk in at the front. Ah, it's like it was yesterday, not nearly 40 years ago.

TigerBlog has no way to know where Saturday's doubleheader ranks in terms of the all-time list in the building. As co-ed ones go, though, this one is definitely No. 1.

Added up, it was 85 minutes of basketball spread over five hours, and when it was over, Princeton and Penn each had one win and one loss and the combined score was 121-121 after a pair of two-point wins.

Penn had double-figure leads in the second half of both games, only to have Princeton come all the way back both times. In one case, Penn re-rallied to win; in the other Princeton held on, though it needed overtime.

The final scores were Penn 50, Princeton 48 in the women's game and Princeton 73, Penn 71 in OT in the men's game.

For the last 16:57 of the women's game, neither team ever led by more than four points. On the men's side, Penn led by 11 with 3:38 to play, necessitating a different kind of drama.

Let's start with the women.

Princeton came in averaging more than 75 points per game. Penn came in allowing 50. From the beginning it was clear this was going to be more to Penn's liking than Princeton's in terms of score, and in fact Princeton scored 10 points in the first quarter and five in the second.

After Penn went up by 10 in the third quarter, though, Princeton came storming back. There would be six lead changes in the second half, when each possession seemed to be critical.

Princeton couldn't get the score it needed to go up by two possessions at any point in the game, which would have been huge from a psychological standpoint.

What does it mean?

Princeton beat Penn in the opener last year and then won the league at 14-0. The year before Princeton beat Penn in the opener and then Penn came back to win the league on the final day of the year.

In other words, there's a long way to go.  TigerBlog senses that for all the drama of Saturday's game, there will be even more drama on March 8, when the teams meet again on the final day of the regular season.

And the men?

Two years ago Princeton lost its opener at Penn, didn't play a league game for three weeks due to exams and never really climbed back into it. This time, Princeton was staring at that same outcome when it trailed 64-53 with 3:38 to go.

From there, Princeton did two huge things.

First, its defense tightened, holding Penn to 3-for-13 shooting the rest of the way. There were also four turnovers - including three in the OT.

Second, Princeton made its foul shots, especially Myles Stephens, the freshman who was 14 for 25 on the year from the line before crunch time Saturday and then 4 for 4 in that crunch time. Princeton also went 7 for 8 from the line as a team in the overtime, during which time it did not make a field goal.

The result was a huge, huge win for Princeton heading into exam break. Amir Bell was incredible, with a career-high 28 before being knocked out after getting hit late in regulation. Without Bell, Princeton rallied with its entire cast, and freshmen like Stephens and Devin Cannady played huge leading roles.

The Ivy League race has a long way to go, and it's unlikely that anyone is going 14-0. After exams Princeton hops right into it, with a trip to Brown and Yale, followed by Harvard and Dartmouth at home the first weekend of February.

By then, you'll have a pretty good idea of how things are starting to shape up.

For Princeton, it has as good a chance as anyone. And it's already passed one huge hurdle, doing it the hard way at that.

The women have a long way to go, and they'll be heard from again. Don't worry about that.

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