Raise your hand if you thought last night's Villanova-Penn game would be close.
Yeah, that's what I thought.
It might not have been an especially well-played game, but the 5,561 fans who came to the Palestra got their money's worth in the Wildcats' 65-53 win.
(Aside: I know it was a weeknight, but over 3,000 empty seats for a Big 5 game at the Palestra? We can do better than that, I think.)
The largest lead of the game was 13 points, which isn't a small margin, but it's a lot closer than the last few years' games between these two teams have been. Penn trailed for the last 22 or so minutes of the game, but was always close enough to make things interesting. One fewer turnover here or one more made field goal there might have really had an effect.
But every time the Quakers threatened, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena bailed the Wildcats out. The duo did a lot of bailing: they shot 18-for-25 combined, and the rest of the Wildcats shot 4-for-20. Villanova also committed 16 turnovers, including five by Corey Fisher.
Stokes ended the night with 34 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including 5-for-9 from three-point range; Pena scored 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds.
At the other end of the floor, Zack Rosen scored 20 for Penn, on 7-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. He could have had more had he not jacked up two ill-advised threes from halfway to the Schuylkill River in the second half.
Perhaps the most surprising moment of the night came after the game. We all know that Penn coach Jerome Allen is a really competitive guy, but he pretty well refused to take any positives from the night. Allen went into some depth about not believing in moral victories, including the following quote:
Maybe it was closer than what you expected, but we expected to win the game. We come out and play to win the game, and I don't try to teach these guys - why would we sell them short? As well as we played, as hard as we fought against the 12th-ranked team in the nation, they play in the Big East, I don't care. I don't.
We get up every day as a staff, and we come and prepare these guys, and put them in the best situation possible to win basketball games. Whether that happens or not is a different story, but from a mentality standpoint, I expect to win every time we step on the floor.
I'm not jumping up and down on the sidelines for show. I'm not hollering at these guys, I'm not trying to motivate them just to say okay, just come close and keep it respectable.
What do you think of that?