FOR ONLY the second time, and first since 2008, Penn played Drexel at the Daskalakis Athletic Center instead of the Palestra. And, yes, it's still a short walk between the two. The last time they met on the north side of Market Street, the game started at 10 a.m. as part of ESPN's "24 Hour Tipoff Madness."
This time, it was a Tuesday night in mid-December, with the start of the conference schedule finally approaching. One team was looking to beat a Division I opponent for the first time in almost a month, while the other was trying to get its second win of the season.
Their common denominator, other than proximity, was that both knocked off La Salle.
The last time the Quakers were the visitors in this series, it came down to a jumper that went off the rim. This was more of the same, only it went an extra five minutes. Penn had two chances to win on last-second shots. But neither went down, and Drexel got its sixth straight win in the series, in the first meeting in three years, 53-52.
The Dragons (2-8), after falling behind by four in the overtime, scored the next seven in a game that nobody led by more than four. They were still up by three with 32 seconds left, after two free throws from Terrell Allen. But Penn got to within one 12 seconds later on two freebies by Antonio Woods. Then the Dragons turned it over on the inbounds pass. So Woods, a sophomore guard who led Penn (5-6) with 17 points, found the ball in his hands at the end again.
In regulation, he missed a foul-line jumper in traffic when it was 44-all. This time, he dribbled into the lane and freed himself up for an open look. But it bounced off the rim, and the tip was never close.
"In terms of beauty, it wasn't very pretty," said first-year Penn coach Steve Donahue, whose team was coming off a seven-point home win over Division III Ursinus, his alma mater. "But it was two teams that really wanted to win."
The Dragons, who obviously would be much better if Damion Lee hadn't transferred to Louisville, have been in most of their games. That doesn't make the struggling any easier. They won despite shooting 29.1 percent. But they did have nine more rebounds. Sixteen were off the offensive glass, which meant the Dragons, as only coach Bruiser Flint could accurately note, at least had the opportunity to miss again.
"Did you watch the game?" he said, smiling.
Tavon Allen (no relation to Terrell) led the Dragons with 16 points, which left him one short of 1,000 for his career. He missed some time late in the second half after picking up his fourth foul. Kazembe Abif had 13 points and 14 boards. They went 6-for-6 from the line in OT, after going 9-for-17 before that.
"That was the difference," Flint said. "And we played great defense all game. We made some mistakes down the stretch, though."
Doesn't matter so much when you survive.
There was a 14-minute stretch in the second half when Penn's two field goals came on follows. The Quakers also went scoreless for nearly 5 1/2 minutes closing out the first half. And yet somehow they were never out of it.
"I really tried to express to the young guys how important this game is," Abif said. "It's the battle of 33rd Street. They never come to the DAC. But it's a big rivalry. We play against each other in summer pickup. We go there, they come here. It's bragging rights for the year."
Never a bad thing. As is just playing this game, even if it's on some nearby playground.
"I'm just happy we got back together," Flint said. "It was easy to do this. I asked Stevie and their new AD (Dr. Grace Calhoun), 'Would you mind coming to the DAC?' And he was like, 'No problem.' I appreciate that. Just come once in a while. Maybe we can do it when school's in session. That would be great for the crowd."
For now, you take whatever you can get.