Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Special Saturday Blog For A Special Saturday Game

Don't get used to a weekend edition of TigerBlog. This is going to be, in all likelihood, a one-time thing.

Then again, the Princeton-Penn semifinal of the Ivy League men's basketball tournament was a one-time thing too. And TB felt like he wanted to weigh in on it, so it doesn't get lost in whatever happens in Sunday's final.

If you weren't paying attention, Princeton defeated Penn 72-64 in the first-ever Ivy League men's basketball tournament game. This tournament can be around for decades and it might not match what happened Saturday afternoon.

What Princeton did was special. What Princeton did took a lot of guts. What Princeton did was not easy.

The result was another amazing chapter in an amazing rivalry, and a shot today at noon in the tournament final - on ESPN2 - to get to the NCAA tournament.

Before TB talks about the game, let him state the obvious. This was the nightmare scenario for the Tigers.

Back when the season started, everyone knew two things: 1) the tournament was going to be at the Palestra and 2) Princeton, Harvard and Yale were going to be the favorites to finish 1-2-3, which is exactly what happened.

Long before it all played out, the uneasy joke was that Princeton was going win the league and, as its reward, have to play Penn on Penn's home court, in front of Penn's fans. As the year went along, it got worse.

Princeton went 14-0 in the Ivy League and won the league by four games over second-place Harvard. Yale finished third. As predicted, those three did in fact go 1-2-3.

Penn? The Quakers were 0-6 at one point, and then back they came, winning six of their last eight to get into the tournament field on the last day. As Penn made its surge, Princeton had to add playing "surging Penn" on its home court to the equation.

And that's exactly what happened.

So here was Princeton, in white jerseys. And there was Penn, in blue jerseys. And here was Princeton, 14-0 in the league and in any other year sitting around waiting for the selections for the NCAA tournament. And there was Penn, dripping with confidence and knowing that nothing that had happened to this point of the season mattered.

The game unfolded how Penn wanted to. The Quakers scored first and did what underdogs need to do - played from ahead. Penn would lead for 36 minutes or so, and Princeton would tie it only three times in the second half, twice in the final two minutes and ultimately with six seconds left in regulation.

Penn's Darnell Foreman then launched a three at the buzzer that seemingly hung in the air forever, only to not splash in. Off to overtime the game went.

To TigerBlog it seemed like all of the air went out of Penn and its rabid fans, who had been a strong sixth man for the Quakers all day, when Foreman's shot didn't go in.

Princeton, who had never to that point led, sprinted away in the overtime.

There was one hidden moment in the game, and had it gone differently, it might have - actually probably would have been - all been different. 

Princeton tied the game at 53-53, but Penn scored four straight, as two Princeton shots excruciatingly rolled out. Penn then had the ball, and Ryan Betley, who was on all day, put up a three.

If it goes in, then it's a seven-point (three possession) Quaker lead with 2:30 left. Instead, Betley's shot was no good, and Devin Cannady got the rebound and was fouled, sending him to the line for a one-and-one.

Cannady, who is one of the best foul shooters in the country, nailed both, and it was a two-point Penn lead instead of a seven-point Penn lead. That was huge.

Cannady finished with an insane stat line: 1 for 8 from the field, but 10 for 10 from the line and 11 rebounds, all on the defensive end.

That swing was the hidden point of the game. The highly visible point of the game was that Myles Stephens simply took over.

The Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-Ivy selection, Stephens put on a show down the stretch, when he was unstoppable.

Need a big momentum boost? How about a Stephens' dunk. Need a stop? Put Stephens on anyone on the court. Need to tie the game with six seconds left? How about an offensive rebound and put back by Stephens.

Need to completely demoralize Penn? There was Stephens, with two unstoppable moves to start the OT. Added together, he put up 21 points and 10 rebounds, and he stopped who knows how many Penn points on a day when every single one was crucial.

So it's on to the final tomorrow for Princeton. There will be basketball next week for Princeton, either in the NCAA tournament or in the NIT. That's for Sunday to figure out.

For Saturday, it was something that's never happened before, the Ivy basketball tournament. And this game - Princeton and Penn fans will be talking about it for years to come, like they do for all of the great games in this great rivalry.

Princeton vs. Penn at the Palestra. It's provided TigerBlog with some of the greatest games he's ever seen.

What happened there Saturday? It was a little different, and no less special, than anything that's come before it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The choice of the Palestra for the tournament is a flawed one. Princeton saved the powers-that-be major embarrassment by eliminating Penn from the tournament. What would they have said if Penn had won it all? Why to play next year's tournament at Rutgers? Similar capacity and geographical location.