Without single dunk, Princeton-Penn was slam-bam good game

Phil Jackman

February 06, 1991|By Phil Jackman

PHILADELPHIA -- Witnessed a basketball game last night wherein there were no dunks. But there was a goaltending call.

One team wore black hightop sneakers, and the intermission entertainment was a baton twirler.

It was nearly midway in the first half before Princeton, a 10-point favorite, erased the zero on the scoreboard. Still, it trailed Penn by just a point, 18-17, starting the second half.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This journey back/ahead in time and space to a new dimension began in a bus in a parking lot off York Road. For want of a better name, Paul Baker, basketball junkie and coordinator, called the project "The third annual Philly Bus Trip."

In lieu of an invocation, Baker led the group in a rousing rendition of "God Bless America" as the jitney veered left off the beltway and headed up I-95. After all, we were headed for the city of Independence and Kate Smith.

As the travelers worked on their club sandwiches, heroes, grinders, hoagies, whatever you call them, a pool on the final score was under way. It was pointed out to the contestants that in six of the last eight games between the pair, the margin of victory was three points or less.

Some wise guy wanted to know if he could use a fraction.

Then came what has to be the weirdest game of chance bet ever conceived by man: those taking part were asked to guess the number of passes Princeton would make in the game. Out came the calculators.

Into the City of Brotherhood Love the valiant 50 rode to a parking spot smack dab in front of the Palestra, hard by venerable Franklin Field and situated dead center in the middle of the Penn campus. This Baker chap has pull, obviously.

Palestra, n.: In ancient Greece, a place for training in wrestling and other athletics.

An apt name for a place where the almost ancient methods of training for basketball are still strictly adhered to by Ivy League squads.

The visitors walked the outer hallways of the 80-year-old arena drinking in the glories of "Big 5" basketball. Tom Gola, Larry Foust, Paul Arizin, Ernie Beck, their plaques were all there. So was Norman Black's. "Hey, remember him at Cardinal Gibbons?" a guy asked.

Ah, the infamous light blue paint on the walls, ceiling and everywhere inside. Will they never run out of that color?

The women's squads of the two schools were finishing up their game as the late arrivals moved to their seats leisurely. It was racehorse, Princeton winning, 86-75, hardly a harbinger of things to come.

Penn was first to the floor and the Quakers were serenaded loudly by their band. Almost unnoticed, the Princeton band slipped in to note the arrival of its stalwarts. Ah, stereo.

A few years back, when the Palestra played to doubleheaders involving Penn, La Salle, St. Joseph's, Villanova and Temple, there used to be four bands on hand. The earliest you could be expected to regain normal hearing was about four days.

Those sold on modern day hoops would look upon what transpired during the next hour and a half as the game Doc Naismith preached to his class at the Springfield YMCA nearly a century ago. Others see it as a game that if properly executed will always have a place in the sport.

Princeton took 40 seconds off the 45-second shot clock by passing the ball 20 times then missing a shot. The guys in the total passes pool immediately thought they should have doubled their guesstimate.

Five minutes into the game, it was Penn, 4-0. Another three minutes and it was 10-0, then the spread was a dozen. Princeton hit a three-pointer after 9:48. No shutout.

Tigers coach Pete Carril explains his method of teaching basketball thusly: "Just like I told my junior varsity team 38 years ago in Easton, Pa. 'We want to get a good shot every time we get possession of the ball. If it takes an extra pass, OK. If it takes two or three or four extra passes, OK.' "

The scores of Princeton games haven't always been in the 40s and low 50s. Back in the days of Bill Bradley, Geoff Petrie and other very talented people who made their mark in the pro game, the lads used to score 80, 90, a C-note sometimes.

"But as the cost to go to Princeton went up," he quips, "the scores of the game went down." In other words, no longer blessed with the talent to overcome mistakes, each ball possession these days must be nurtured to get the most out of it.

Princeton got the ultimate possession just about the time it was making a break from Penn with six minutes remaining in the game. It had outscored the Quakers, 25-9, over 14 minutes when game star Kit Mueller hit a hook shot in the pivot just as the shot clock expired. He was fouled and converted. Three points, 45 seconds off the clock and the opposition charged with a foul. Carril smiled hugely.

The game ended 60-47, Princeton, the men of Old Nassau running their record to 14-2, 5-0 in the Ivy League.

The Baltimore contingent departed the Palestra time capsule and saddled up for the ride home, "making it back by 11:30," hTC Baker promised.

The winner of the score pool was Mike DiMayo, missing the actual score by a point (60-48). Princeton passed the ball 531 times, about the same number of times Kevin McHale, Moses Malone and Dominique Wilkins have combined in their entire careers and Tony Apicella was a winner with his guess of 511.

Maybe the game wasn't for everyone, but I know a busload of guys who will assure it was their cup of tea this night. Who among you can boast of seeing a game above the grammar school level without a dunk, not one?

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