Junior Jeremy Lin was riding a hot hand, and is on pace to challenge for Ivy League Player of the Year. Penn sophomore Tyler Bernardini is the returning Ivy Rookie of the Year, and he has led the Quakers in scoring this year as well.
The two were matched up on each other defensively for most of the game, and the rivalry had all the potential.
The only problem: both players failed to show up.
Lin had the upper hand, going 5-of-10 from the field to post 13 points to go along with his six assists, but the junior standout failed to convert on multiple attempts at the line, going 2-of-5 from the stripe when it counted most.
Bernardini was even worse, however, tallying only six points and four assists on the night. The sophomore could not even muster a field goal in the second half.
Instead, the Crimson was beat by a guard of lesser stature but maybe more skill—freshman Zach Rosen posted a near double-double with a 15-point, nine assist performance.
Although he leads the team in assists, his 7.4 points per game average is nothing to write home about. But the team followed his lead on Friday night, and he delivered, getting inside and getting to the line frequently to frustrate the Crimson defense.
“Rosen was tremendous, and he made some critical passes when they needed it,” coach Tommy Amaker said.
His outstanding play was none the more obvious when it counted most. Rosen was able to get to the hoop, draw contact, and make two free throws with the score tied 56-56 with less than two minutes to play. He then sealed the game with two more clutch free throws with 34 second left.
Penn executed at the end, and the Crimson just could not.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t play a little better in the moments we need to gut out a game like this,” Amaker said. “Give credit to Penn, they played very well in stretches.”
BIG MEN ON CAMPUS
With just under nine minutes to play in the game, Amaker decided to go big. He substituted in junior Doug Miller, but left freshman big man Keith Wright in to give the Crimson a lethal one-two combination.
And the big men did not disappoint. After Wright tallied six straight points of his own beginning at the 14 minute mark, the two combined for 14 of the team’s 16 points over the next eight minutes. The two led the Crimson to a lead at 51-50, and after Lin broke their streak with a big three to put Harvard up four, the team looked poised to win.
“Keith and I were able to set some screens and we benefited from the quickness of [Lin and McNally] to score,” Miller said. “It would be great if we could work up there together, and it would definitely improve our effort on the boards.”
But it was not to be, as the squad lapsed in the end game, missing free throws, failing to get back on transition defense, and even allowing a couple of thunder dunks that led Penn to seal the victory.
“Our energy went down a lot in the second half,” Miller said. “[We], as the veterans, have to make sure we keep going as a team.
NOT HOME, SWEET HOME
Last season, the Crimson failed to tally one road win, posting an abysmal 0-12 mark away from Lavietes.
This season, with some tough road wins at UNH, Dartmouth, and of course, over then-No. 24 Boston College, the road monkey is off the team’s proverbial back.
“I think we’re a better basketball team than last year,” Amaker said. “We’ve won some close games, and that’s encouraging, especially on the road.”
But at home—it’s been a different story. The squad has lost two tough overtime contests, against Dartmouth last weekend and Northeastern earlier in the year. The close loss Friday night to Ivy rival Penn stings all the more in light of this trend.
The team will have to find a way to break this home curse, or the season’s high hopes could come crashing down.
“The little last bit, we need to get it done,” Miller said.
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at email@example.com.