by Craig Dimitri
Each year, it is worth reminding, that in City Series play, anything can - and often does - happen. The last time the Penn Quakers and Villanova Wildcats played in this situation (at the Palestra with Villanova in the top five) it was December 1996 (what has become known as the "Tim Thomas year", to differentiate it from the others of that era).
That night nearly a decade ago, Penn had no business defeating Villanova, and they didn't. However, with the old ghosts in that building, the Quakers always have a fighting chance. And so as could have been expected, Villanova survived an unpleasantly rocky game, but managed to best Penn, 62-55, on Tuesday night. It was, far and away, the stiffest challenge to still-undefeated Villanova this season.
That Penn - now 3-4 overall, 0-2 City Series - would put up a tough game at the Palestra was to be expected. The Quakers, despite their mediocre 3-3 record entering the game, lost by only 13 at #1 Duke earlier this season, and at home they were going to be very tough, regardless of the number in front of Villanova's name. The Quakers charged with a 24-7 run in the second half and trailed by just four, 55-51, with just under two minutes remaining.
What wasn't expected was a bizarre technical charged to 'Nova at crunch time, after Jason Fraser got caught as the sixth man on the floor, coming out of a timeout, and was whistled as he belatedly tried to scurry off the court. Apparently, this situation is not unusual, but the officials usually wait to present the ball to the opponent, until the superfluous player(s) safely escape the court - it's not like having 12 men on the field in football, where everyone is shuttling in and out on every play.
In what could have been devastating to Villanova's chances, the officials offered no such courtesy to the Wildcats. But all's well that ends well, and in the final analysis, Villanova improved to 7-0, 1-0 City Series. They will face Big Five rivals La Salle and Temple in their next two contests, before beginning Big East play against newcomer Louisville.