3-way-tied Ivy League scratches for champ

Penn tops Princeton as rivalry hits new high

March 06, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - Dick Vitale was nowhere to be found. Nor were any former high school All-Americans and future NBA millionaires. They weren't missed here last night, where college basketball's most consistent rivalry was played out in one of the sport's most venerable gymnasiums.

That Penn beat Princeton, 64-48, at the Palestra wasn't much of a surprise, considering that the Quakers pounded the Tigers by 24 points over in New Jersey last month. That they could wind up playing again - on Saturday, for a trip to the NCAA tournament - will only add to the lore.

Penn's victory, celebrated by a crush of students who stormed the court at the game's conclusion, left the Quakers in a three-way tie for first with Princeton and Yale -- the first such dead heat in Ivy League history - and set up what amounts to the league's first post-season tournament.

It begins here tomorrow night when Princeton plays Yale, with the winner facing Penn on Saturday at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. But the essence of what Ivy League basketball is all about, and has been for most of the conference's 46-year existence, can be found in the rivalry between its two marquee programs.

This was one of the reasons Andy Toole came here after spending his first two years at little Elon College, a Division I school in North Carolina.

"I don't think you can find much better intensity than the game that was played tonight," said Toole. "When Duke-Maryland get together, when Duke-North Carolina get together, they know they're going to the tournament year in and year out. It's not a question of winner-take all."

Toole summed up the importance of last night's game as neatly as he had played it.

"If we lost tonight, Princeton goes to the tournament and we go home," said Toole, who prevented that by scoring 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting and leading Penn (24-6) to its ninth straight victory. "I think the stakes are higher, so that raises the intensity to a level higher than you'll find anywhere in the country."

And the Palestra, a nearly 9,000-seat bandbox tucked neatly into Penn's city campus, is to this part of the country what Cameron Indoor Stadium is to Tobacco Road. The building has a lot of memories stored in its 75-year-old scrapbook.

"I think the venue adds a lot to the rivalry," said Bruce Moore, who captained the Penn team in 1965 and later watched his son Eric start on a Quakers team that won 42 straight league games. "The kids who grow up around here want to play at the Palestra like kids in New York wanted to play at the old Madison Square Garden."

This is a rivalry that has had as many legendary coaching matchups as player matchups, perhaps reaching its pinnacle in the years when Chuck Daly was on the bench for Penn while Pete Carril on the bench for Princeton. Fran Dunphy, now in his 13th year at Penn, recently became the school's all-time winningest coach.

"The teams have usually played a different style," said Moore. "They played laid-back, and their gym is more laid-back. Here the players are in-your-face and the fans are in your face."

Said Gary Walters, who played with Bill Bradley at Princeton and is now the school's athletic director, "You start with the fact that you have two great institutions that initially served different constituencies. You have the city school and the country school. The issue of proximity has added to the rivalry."

Though the students here don't camp out for tickets as they have done for years at Duke and have come to do at Maryland, they did resemble their ACC brothers and sisters in one regard: they came last night with painted faces. And they will make the trek up to Easton on Saturday, hoping that the Tigers will be there, too.

John Thompson III, who played for Carril and is now in his second year as Princeton's coach, has been one of the more vocal opponents of a postseason tournament.

"We got one now, don't we?" Thompson said with the smallest of smiles.

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