Penn 78, Villanova 75 … but hooboy.
It had been more than six years since Villanova had lost a game in Philadelphia’s unique Big 5 series.
The Wildcats began what became a 25-game winning streak on Dec. 5, 2012, by defeating Penn, and won five consecutive outright City Series championships over Penn, Temple, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s. Oh, yeah, and a couple of national titles along the way, too.
But on Tuesday night at a packed Palestra, Penn ended Villanova’s singular run while breaking a 15-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
Thus, the wild, court-storming scene when the deal was sealed.
Court storming at The Palestra! @PennBasketball pic.twitter.com/UGOE2qUCEr
Here are three takeaways from Penn’s Big 5 win over 2018 national champion Villanova:
1. Call it an upset, but don’t call it a fluke.
“Penn beating Villanova wasn’t a fluke, it was (Quakers coach) Steve Donahue’s strategy executed effectively,” Philly.com’s headline summed up things.
In short, Penn used tight defense, a significant rebounding advantage and balanced scoring while the Quakers matched the Wildcats’ trademark grit and determination.
“Look what Villanova has done,’’ Donahue said later, his reading glasses broken during the celebration in his own locker room. “I thought about it today. They’ve literally won two of the last three national championships. I never imagined that could ever happen. That’s what makes the Big 5, this win, special — what they’ve accomplished. I thought (Villanova) played out of their minds. It wasn’t like they laid an egg.”
Countered Villanova coach Jay Wright: “(Penn) did a really good job defensively, really physical, well-coached, very disciplined.”
Donahue, who led Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010, may have another blooming Ivy League power in the 9-2 Quakers.
2. This isn’t the Villanova of recent seasons
If not for their recent championship pedigree, the No. 17 Wildcats (8-3), who have been solid but hardly spectacular, may have been outside the Top 25.
They fell out of the poll for a week after consecutive home losses to Michigan and Furman (Furman?). But they had won six straight and bulked up their record in the City Series with wins over La Salle, Temple and Saint Joe’s.
Sure, you can say there are a lot of players who’ve moved on from the Wildcats’ two national championships over the past three seasons, but it’s not like the cupboard is bare.
Penn’s student section — waving “There’s No Fear Here” signs — started rocking the Palestra bleachers with minutes left, and the Quakers avoided a late scare to deliver the latest memorable moment in the Big 5.
“It was nice while it lasted,” Wright said of The Streak (via The Associated Press). “We learn from it. It was fun to be a part of it.”
Final from The Palestra. pic.twitter.com/PfX1v8Dj5h
3. This is what the Big 5 is all about
Two things: First, Villanova’s 25 consecutive wins in the Big 5 likely won’t be broken, given the nature of college basketball today. And second, that’s a special streak, but this is an extraordinary intracity series among five schools.
OK, so the Wildcats don’t look like national title contenders right now — and may never this season. (They trailed in three of their four Big 5 games over the past 10 days.)
But on this night, when bedlam broke loose after Penn clinched the victory, this was Big 5 basketball at its best.
“We sell the Big 5, we sell what you saw tonight,’’ Donahue said. “For them to live that out, and come out victorious, in that environment — they’ll never forget that night.”
Waking up this morning as the city’s cover boys! ??? pic.twitter.com/5iYz13ZjSk
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