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Bouncing Back
Men's basketball recovers from Princeton loss to win Ivy title.
By Noel Hynd


DESPITE 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 improbable.
   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 Palestra crowd.
   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 Jordan (15).
   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 process."
   So who says you can't have success and fun at the same time?   


Noel Hynd, C'70, writes on sports for the Gazette.


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