Penn seniors down to final chance to win Big 5 game

Posted: January 20, 2011

THERE IS one more shot for four seniors at the University of Pennsylvania to avoid a spot in Big 5 infamy.

After last night's 73-56 loss at Temple, it all comes down to a game on Saturday against Saint Joseph's at the Palestra.

Lose and, as far as anyone can recollect, Quakers seniors Jack Eggleston, Tyler Bernardini, Conor Turley and Dan Monckton will be the first to go 0-16 in their Big 5 careers.

Redshirt seniors Andreas Schreiber and Darren Smith were fortunate enough to be freshmen on the 2006-07 Penn team that went 2-2 in Big 5 play.

"It's big," said Eggleston, who had 15 points against Temple. "It's big.

"Coming into my Penn career, if you told me that I'd be sitting here 0-15 in the Big 5, I'd say you were crazy."

It's a funny thing about the Philadelphia Big 5. It's not a sanctioned conference. There is no NCAA bid on the line for winning. In many ways, with the evolution of collegiate athletics and the emergence of super conferences, the Big 5 has lost some of its luster.

But it still matters - even if it's just for local bragging rights. In a city with as much attitude as Philadelphia, bragging rights can be a pretty big thing.

"I think that guys, if they are not from this area, by the time they are seniors they have a great appreciation for this event," said Penn coach Jerome Allen, who helped the Quakers to a tie for the 1993-94 Big 5 title.

So imagine going through an entire Big 5 career - a full 16 game over four seasons - without having even a little taste of success.

Perhaps since Bernardini and Turner came to Penn from California, Eggleston from Indiana and Monckton from Illinois, they didn't fully understand the significance of the Big 5. But, as Allen said, there is no way they didn't learn after 4 years in West Philadelphia.

That was clearly reflected in Eggleston's emotions after the Temple loss.

"We've had some tough losses," he said. "My freshman year we lost to La Salle when we had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer with 4 seconds left.

"We lost to La Salle in overtime [last week]. We were up on St. Joe's by 16 my sophomore year and lost.

"All of the losses were tough."

Maybe something like this takes on an even bigger life at Penn. The Big 5 was the brainchild of Penn athletic director Jerry Ford. Penn president Gaylord Harnwell formally announced the formation of the nonconference group at Penn's Houston Hall on Nov. 23, 1954.

Between 1955 and 1991, nearly all Big 5 games were played at the Palestra.

"It's about the tradition," Eggleston said, "especially with the man on the sidelines who won 43 straight Ivy League games."

He was referring to Allen, the player.

"[Big 5] history is on the walls of the concourse of the Palestra and hanging from the rafters. This last game on Saturday is going to mean it all for me."

You look for inspiration where you can get it.

Last night, Penn's women ended a 24-game Big 5 losing streak with a 45-40 victory over La Salle at the Palestra.

Allen, who played at Episcopal Academy before coming to Penn, fully understands the impact of the Big 5 and what it means to his players. But he also understands that it is important that the Quakers don't put too much emphasis on it.

"Tonight was the most important game for us because it was our next game," Allen said. "I wear two hats. I know the Big 5. I'm from Philadelphia. I know what the rivalry is all about.

"But I also have a responsibility to prepare our guys for every game like it is the most important game of the season. The next game is the most important game because it's the next time we play."

Obviously, the Quakers want that elusive Big 5 win, but the reality is that their season truly begins next Friday, when they open their Ivy League schedule against Yale.

For a midmajor team like Temple, a strong showing at or near the top of the Atlantic 10 will at least put the Owls in the running for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

For Penn, winning the Ivy League is the only way into the NCAAs. The Ivy League never has received an at-large bid into the tournament.

And since the Ivy League is the last conference that doesn't crown its official champion with a postseason tournament, its league schedule means everything.

Obviously, Allen wants his seniors to get that Big 5 victory, but more importantly, he wants his team to understand what it's going to take to have a successful season.

"I want these guys to have a mind-set that when things are important to you, you pay attention to the details," he said. "I'm not trying to take away from the history [of the Big 5] but this game was important to us because we had lost three in a row and now it's four.

"We need to get back on track. The [game against St. Joe's] is the most important game for us because it's the next game."

It's also the last Big 5 shot for Penn's seniors.

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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