CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The band stayed around after the game, and why not? They had traveled all the way up from Philadelphia and just saw their team win a big game on the road with first place, and really, the season, on the line. When Zack Rosen walked out and down the stairs from the locker room, he got a hero’s welcome from them, more so than head coach Jerome Allen and other players.
And who can blame them? Rosen had just willed Penn to a 55-54 win at Harvard that kept the Crimson from clinching a tie for the Ivy League title and kept Penn in control of their own destiny.
There were times in the second half where it probably seemed like nothing Penn did would get them a basket. That was especially the case where they were stuck at 40 points for about four minutes. Harvard’s defense is a well-known commodity, and Saturday night was no exception. But the Crimson had their own problems scoring, and that allowed Penn to still be in the game when Rosen took over.
“The team needs me to step up and make plays,” said Rosen, who scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. “I’m a senior, I’ve worked my butt off, I earned it, coach trusts me, all the guys trust me. It’s what I need to do for us to win.”
Down 51-46, Rosen first hit a three-pointer right in front of his own bench with just over four minutes left. He missed another from the opposite wing, but later hit a tough jumper from the elbow right over a defender to bring Penn within 52-51 with 2:27 left. Then after more stops and two Harvard free throws, he drove in, spun around and hit a tough fadeaway with 1:29 left. That set the stage for what won it on the scoreboard.
The Quakers got an offensive board after a miss, and had the ball with seconds left. After a timeout, the lefty had the ball and drove by Brandyn Curry to the basket, got fouled and made both free throws with 23.2 seconds left. He said there was never a doubt about either one.
“Those were good,” said the senior guard. “I missed the one-and-one last week.”
Even as Rosen is the man of the hour in University City, he was quick to point to the player who took the charge at the end. Tyler Bernardini has been through quite a bit in his career, from promise early on to injuries in the latter part, including a bad foot recently that continues to bother him. And he’s never been known for his defense. But as Harvard inbounded the ball with 5.7 seconds left under their basket, Bernardini came over as Kyle Casey got the ball and was about to go up with it. The ball dropped through the basket, but the referee signaled a charging foul with 3.5 seconds left.
“Tyler Bernardini made an unbelievable play,” said Rosen. “For a guy that’s not 100 percent, that dude made a great, great help-side defensive play to save the season.”
Rosen is a player who simply went to the right school. A solid high school player, he was on everyone’s radar from playing in the New York area and being a fixture at numerous travel team events. He did a prep year at St. Benedict’s, likely hoping he could raise his recruitment as he didn’t need the extra year academically. At the end of the day, he’s at a school where he has played all along and has been one of the best players in the league, and now he’s hoping to lead them to a title.
Saturday night doesn’t settle the picture by a long shot. Harvard still has to go to Columbia and Cornell next weekend. Penn is at home, with Brown and Yale making the trip, and a week from Tuesday they head to arch-rival Princeton. Count Rosen among those who is not declaring victory just yet on the season.
“This thing is far from over, and we have three games to control our own destiny,” said the senior guard.
His coach not only has enjoyed coaching him, but also sees that Rosen, as much as anyone, knows there is more to be done. Jerome Allen, one the all-time greats at the school and now the head coach, said Rosen was all business after the game, and that told him plenty.
“Because I saw that demeanor from him, I know that he’s locked in and he wants something more,” said Allen.
For one night, Rosen and the Quakers got a hero’s welcome at the visiting arena. You can hardly blame the band for sticking around to do it.