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Men's basketball recovers from Princeton loss to win Ivy
By Noel Hynd
a couple of memorable power failures, including one that will become part
of Ivy basketball folklore, the Penn men's basketball team accomplished
what can always be considered the benchmark of a successful season: They
won the Ivy League championship. How that happened was both exciting and
Penn and Princeton, both with 6-0 league records, met
on February 9 at the Palestra for the first of the two annual showdowns
between the perennial Ivy rivals. In case you were in a coma at the time,
Penn went roaring out to a 27-point lead in that contest before a delirious
And then they went cold.
Princeton came creeping back, then charging back, and
then, incredibly, won the game in the final seconds, 50-49. It was the
worst blown lead in Penn basketball history. It also left the Quakers
with an all-too-familiar scenario. If Princeton and Penn won the rest
of their games, Penn would still be one game behind Princeton for the
final game at Princeton on March 2. Penn would then have to beat Princeton
twice to advance to the NCAA finals. This is known as having to do it
the hard way.
But a funny thing happened on the road to that final
showdown. Penn recovered dramatically from the catastrophe of February
9 and won their next six Ivy games. Princeton, meanwhile, lost close games
at Yale and at Harvard, perhaps the two weakest teams in the league. These
Tiger losses set the stage for the final Penn-Princeton game in exactly
the opposite circumstances than one might have predicted. This time, it
was Princeton who needed to beat Penn twice to advance to the NCAAs. Even
so, the striped cats were sitting comfortably on a 26-game Ivy winning
streak at home.
They sit comfortably no longer.
Penn took an early lead and this time they kept it,
at a Jadwyn Gym that seemed to grow quieter as the game progressed. Junior
center Geoff Owens, playing with a broken jaw, scored 14 points and sparked
the decisive second-half run that led to a 73-48 Quaker victory.
In defeating Princeton (20-7 overall, 11-3 Ivy), Penn
(21-5, 13-1) snapped the Tigers' streak of three Ivy titles in a row and
also put a definitive end to a series of five consecutive Penn losses
to Princeton. The victory also put Penn in the NCAA tournament for the
first time in four years.
"We kind of redeemed ourselves in a way,"
said junior guard Michael Jordan, referring to the February disaster.
Jordan had 13 points and four assists while holding Princeton's Brian
Earl to seven points.
"I was thinking about throwing that tape away,"
Coach Fran Dunphy commented after the victory, also speaking of the 50-49
calamity. "But we needed therapy, we needed to talk about it. We
talked about how if we all did one thing better we could come out ahead."
Unfortunately, the magic as well as the euphoria disappeared
in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With the NCAA's unerring sense
of geography, Penn was placed in the western regionals and ranked 11th
of the 16 teams in their section. They drew nationally ranked Florida
in the first round at Seattle.
For a while, it looked like Penn was on the path to
a memorable upset. The Quakers made 11 of 17 three-pointers in the first
half and held a 43-32 lead at halftime. But, just as the successful three-pointer
giveth, the errant three-pointer taketh away. Penn's hot shooting hand
turned icy in the second half -- a scary flashback to the Princeton debacle
-- hitting only three of 15 from downtown and shooting 27.3 percent overall.
It was painful to watch. Florida took the lead, 49-48, with 10:56 left
in the second half and continued to a 75-61 final score. Leading scorers
for Penn were senior Jed Ryan (22) and juniors Matt Langel (16) and Michael
Despite its early exit from the finals, this year's
men's basketball team put together a record to be proud of by anyone's
standards, winning 21 of 27 games and coming back from what might have
been a crushing defeat to become Ivy League champions.
I always enjoy mentioning Penn athletes who distinguish
themselves both academically and athletically. Andrei Rodzianko, a senior
from West Nyack, N.Y., fits easily into that category.
Andrei, a business and engineering major, was an All-American
selection at the recent NCAA Wrestling Championships and was also recently
named as a GTE First Team All-District selection for both his athletic
and academic excellence. He was undefeated during the dual season (20-0)
and earned a fourth-place finish at the NCAAs at 197-lb class. He helped
the wrestling team earn its highest finish at the NCAAs (11th) since 1942.
Rodzianko missed the first half of the season because
he was studying in Russia. In his first wrestling competition of the season,
he won the prestigious Midlands Open Championship. He had returned from
Russia only eight days prior to the tournament and had been away from
the sport for nine months.
Andrei has been named to the Ivy League All Academic
Team twice, has been a three-time NCAA qualifier, and was the 1997 and
1999 EIWA Champion (197 lbs). He helped Penn's wrestlers to an unbeaten
season (10-0-2) in dual meets this year -- for the first time since the
1968-69 season -- and finished the year with a personal record of 25-2.
Andrei's most memorable academic accomplishment at Penn
was a perfect 4.0 semester in the spring of his freshman year. The most
memorable wrestling experience, he says, was the squad's trip to Hawaii
over winter break this past year. "It was very hard to find something
to complain about on that trip as we won all of our matches, had a lot
of fun going to beaches and other resort spots and got nice tans in the
So who says you can't have success and fun at the same
Noel Hynd, C'70, writes on sports for the Gazette.
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