PHILADELPHIA -- — Tyler Perkins was oblivious to the Big 5 — “I thought it was a conference,” he said — or what a Penn win in a city series game against Villanova would mean to the program until streamers rained down on the Palestra court.
Once the Penn party simmered down, the freshman guard who orchestrated the upset could confess: He called Penn’s shot.
“When we started to scout,” he knew, Perkins said.
“Did you say, ‘start to scout?’” coach Steve Donahue questioned to laughter.
“He told me that,” Quakers guard Clark Slajchert confirmed.
Perkins scored 22 points and Penn trailed for only 53 seconds in a 76-72 victory over No. 21 Villanova on Monday night that ended with students from the Ivy League underdog mobbing the court for a wild celebration.
Slajchert hit two three free throws in the final three seconds to seal the win and ignite the Penn party.
“I felt like it's about damn time we were able to do this,” he said.
Penn students unleashed their own pent-up emotions and tossed the traditional Big 5 streamers. Many paused to snap photos of the scoreboard. The Quakers stuck around to help sing the fight song with cheerleaders and fans.
“The Palestra's the front porch of our university,” Donahue said.
It sure seemed like most of the 6,273 fans stormed through the door.
The Quakers (3-1), 12-point underdogs according to , won for only the 19th time in 70 games against the Wildcats in a series that dates to 1922.
Perkins was clutch down the stretch. He hit a step-back 3-pointer for a nine-point lead and Cameron Thrower buried a 3 for a 60-51 advantage with 7:20 left.
Perkins scored the big buckets each time the Wildcats (2-1) edged closer. He nailed a second-chance 3 that stretched the lead to 68-57 and positioned the Quakers for their second win over Villanova in six years.
Justin Moore, who led Villanova with 25 points, sank a 3 that made it 73-69 with 10.9 seconds left and another 3 for a 74-72 game with 3.8 seconds to go that shushed the crowd.
Only momentarily. Under second-year coach Kyle Neptune, the Wildcats simply ran out of time. All that was left was avoiding the mad rush of students.
“We're always confident until the last possible second,” Neptune said.
There’s more than a perceived talent gap that separated the programs this season. There's a hefty financial one at play.
The Wildcats are building on a roughly $3 million name, image, and likeness collective while Penn — in a that already prohibits athletic scholarships — does not have any NIL funds.
But Donahue knows how to orchestrate an upset at the Palestra over the Big East bullies from the Main Line. Penn fans also stormed the court in 2018 after the Quakers beat Villanova. Donahue, who led Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010, hadn’t had much success in the series since then.
But there is something about playing at the Palestra, dubbed the Cathedral of College Basketball, that stirs those long-shot dreams.
Dreams are nice.
Long shots help more.
Penn opened with a 3-pointer, a four-point play and those 12-points dogs to the ’Cats were suddenly up six. Penn’s zone stymied the Wildcats, who never made a serious run. The Quakers led 32-30 at the break — Villanova led only 3-0 and 30-28 in the half — and a second stunner under Donahue seemed within reach.
“When you get that kind of feeling, there's really nothing like college basketball,” Donahue said. “I sold it to these guys, come here, this is what they dreamed of. Then to walk out and have campus basically running on the court, that's why you play.”
BIG 5 CHANGES
Penn, La Salle, Temple, Saint Joseph’s and Villanova are joined this season by Philly’s sixth Division I program, Drexel. Gone is round-robin play. Schools instead were split into three-team pods with games played at on-campus arenas, with the teams then seeded for a Dec. 2 tripleheader at the Wells Fargo Center that will crown the Big 5 champion.
In a city series long dominated by Villanova, Penn is still alive for a Big 5 title.
Penn plays Saturday at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Villanova hosts Maryland on Friday.
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- Brian O'Connell
- Matt Potter
- Nathan Hall