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PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—Although Harvard men’s basketball coach Tommy Amaker has insisted that no single league win or loss will make or break his team’s season, Saturday night’s classic between the Crimson and Penn will surely retain significance through the remainder of the Ivy slate.
Had Harvard fallen to its hosts, its pair of Ivy losses would have dropped the squad to third in the league, behind fellow title contenders Princeton as well as the Quakers.
Instead, what the Crimson will take from its 83-82 double-overtime victory is most likely a lesson about the challenge of holding a lead on the home turf of one of the league’s premier playmakers: Zack Rosen.
A night after nearly clawing its way back from an 11-point deficit against the Tigers, Harvard found itself with an 18-point advantage over Penn four minutes into the second half.
Then it all began to unravel. Five Crimson turnovers over the next four minutes, coupled with a traditional three-point play by the junior standout Rosen, helped the home team cut the Harvard advantage to 49-39 with 11 minutes to play.
The Quaker’s offensive catalyst, Rosen seemed to elevate his level of performance as a thunderous Palestra crowd of 6,283 grew in volume.
The two-time team captain went right at Harvard sophomore guard Brandyn Curry, who had handled him well in last year’s matchup in the same building. But this time, it was Curry who fouled Rosen on a three-point attempt, leading to a trio of free throws that kept Penn in the thick of it at the eight-minute mark.
While Rosen’s shot was off in the first half—he tallied just two points on 1-of-7 shooting—he turned things on when his team needed him the most, using screens and dribble penetration to great effect.
The guard had a hand in all but one of his team’s final five baskets of regulation, first finding senior Jack Eggleston at the top of the key for a three-pointer, then keeping it himself and hitting a triple from nearly the same spot a minute and a half later to bring his team within one point.
Drawing a foul on Curry with 10 seconds left in the second half, Rosen calmly knocked down a pair of game-tying free throws and sent the contest into overtime, when he proved just as invaluable.
After fellow guard Tyler Bernardini fouled out minutes into the extra period, Rosen took over. He picked up an assist and six consecutive points—including a fall-away jumper at the buzzer to extend the game for another stanza.
Only when Harvard was able to hold the star scoreless—highlighted by the persistent Curry’s forcing of a jump ball on Rosen on the perimeter—did the final buzzer sound with the road team on top.
“Everybody made great plays…especially Brandyn’s jump ball in the corner on Rosen,” junior co-captain McNally said. “It was extremely heady and just a smart play—a big-time winning play.”
The Quakers encountered defensive issues of their own when trying to deal with Harvard big man Keith Wright, who was once again unmatched on the interior, nabbing a career-high 25 points and six rebounds.
The 6’8” forward got going early, picking up four layups in the game’s first six minutes, as his formidable combination of size and speed confounded whomever tried to match up with him—most often, forward Conor Turley, who picked up four fouls halfway through the second half and sat out the rest of the frame.
But then guarded by freshman Fran Dougherty, Wright went curiously silent, going without a shot attempt over the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Whether the problem had been with Wright’s lack of aggressiveness or his teammates’ inability to get him the ball, it was resolved by the start of overtime. Coming out with a renewed focus in the first extra period, Wright was again a force in the post, dropping in a pair of buckets in the paint to go along with two clutch free throws and a key block.
“I thought that we played with a lot of poise,” Amaker said. “[For example,] Keith Wright, just powering up and making free throws. Everyone had to make a number of plays…for this game to...have the drama that we all witnessed here this evening.”
—Staff writer Dennis J. Zheng can be reached at email@example.com.
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