When the Ivy League decided to institute an end-of-season conference tournament starting last season, games like this are exactly what the powers-that-be had in mind.
Penn outlasted Harvard in a wild game, 68-65, to capture the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday afternoon on their home court at The Palestra.
The Quakers and Crimson both went 12-2 in the Ivy League regular season and split their two meetings this year, so a close game was to be expected. But maybe not like this.
With the game tied at 13 early on, Harvard embarked on a 13-0 run to take control and silence the home crowd. Rio Haskett had seven points over the first 12-plus minutes to lead the way.
But Penn came storming back. First, the Quakers got to the basket, scoring four straight field goals inside. Then, Penn stepped out and started making threes. Darnell Foreman made two of them in the final couple minutes, including one just before the halftime buzzer to put the Quakers ahead going into the locker room.
Penn scored the final 13 points of the first half and the first nine of the second to turn an 11-point deficit into an 11-point lead. And while Harvard was able to hang around, the game soon took another turn for the worse. Down eight with less than eight minutes to go, leading scorer Seth Towns appeared to injure his knee. In visible pain, he hobbled to the bench and did not return.
A Crimson comeback seemed unlikely.
So, naturally, that’s what happened. Christian Juzang scored eight points over the final seven minutes to bring Harvard even closer. The Crimson found themselves down by three with under 20 seconds to go with a shot to tie the game. But Justin Bassey missed a three. Then Juzang missed another. Time expired before Harvard could try a third attempt and Penn escaped with a win, a championship, and a ticket to the Big Dance.