PHILADELPHIA, PA. 12/11/2018 – Every Philadelphia college basketball fan has a memory of the biggest thrillers in Big Five history. They think back and say ‘I remember that game.’ This has to be one of them. Final score: Penn 78 Villanova 75 in front of 8,033 loud and excited fans of both teams at The Palestra. It was like the days of yesteryear.
“Having grown up in this city, this is what the Big Five is supposed to be,” said Penn Coach Steve Donahue. “Both teams played terrific, the Palestra is going crazy, the kids are playing out of their minds. Everyone is diving for loose balls. It is what this building brings and I cannot be more proud of our effort.”
The outcome was still in doubt to the end. Villanova got a three-pointer off at the buzzer from the corner. It was short.
The University of Pennsylvania was able to pull off the upset by being tough, and in some cases tougher. The Quakers had to be to withstand each run the Wildcats would make. Grit and determination were the deciding factors, especially on the defensive end.
“We’re here just to be tough,” said Penn forward AJ Brodeur who scored 16 points. “Defense is one of our strong suits. We showed that. Defense comes down to toughness. That’s our mindset.”
Penn started quickly getting out to a 14 – 2 lead in under eight minutes of play. The lead did not last long each time, but the Red and Blue would come up with an answer.
Playing sharp on offense the Quakers were ahead 60 – 51 with 7:29 to play and their fans were feeling it. The lead grew to 68 – 62 on a Devon Goodman three-pointer with just under four minutes on the clock.
The Wildcats dug in and made another charge led by Phil Booth and Collin Gillespie, who scored a game-high 21 points. Penn made six of eight from the line to stay ahead. Forward Michael Wang sank a free throw for the final points for the Quakers.
Booth drained another three-pointer, he finished with 18 points, with 1.5 seconds left. On the inbounds play, the Penn pass went out of bounds, and the Cats had one more chance. Booth got a look from beyond the arc. The shot was short.
“Sometimes we are not pretty, but we’re gritty,” Donahue said. “There were decisions and turnovers that could have snowballed especially when you are going against a champion. Our ability to come back and stop the bleeding was a big part. There was a sense that we were not going to allow things to snowball and beat us.”
Penn outrebounded Villanova by a 35 – 22 margin, 13 – 6 on the offensive glass.
“They played tougher than us, they really did,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “When the ball went up on the glass we didn’t get physical and box them out. When we did they ran through us. They were a more physical and tougher team.”
The Red and Blue also limited Nova to 9 of 26 shooting from distance.
“They were physical throughout the game,” said Gillespie. “They played tougher than us defensively and took us out of what we wanted to do.”
The Villanova Big Five winning streak ends at 25 games. Penn takes the lead in the city series with a 2 – 0 record, Nova finishes 3 – 1. The race for the crown is not over. There is too much basketball yet to be played. And there is one night to remember.
“To be part of something special like this is huge for us,” Brodeur said.
Written By: Glenn Papazian