PHILADELPHIA — This is one exhilarating stretch for Harvard basketball. Jeremy Lin is an overnight sensation in the NBA, and Corbin Miller and company are working on an undefeated Ivy League schedule.
Miller and Kyle Casey scored 17 points apiece, Keith Wright grabbed 13 rebounds and No. 25 Harvard edged Penn 56-50 on Friday night.
The Crimson (21-2, 7-0) snapped a tie midway through the second half with an 11-2 run that gave them the needed cushion to hang on for their ninth straight win. Harvard looks to keep its unbeaten conference season alive Saturday at Princeton.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said it's too early to think about a perfect Ivy season.
"We have a long way to go to think of ourselves as anything along those lines," he said. "We're working toward becoming a contender on a consistent basis. But right now, we're full steam ahead with what's right in front of us."
The Crimson are rooting just as hard for an Ivy title as they are for a former teammate.
Even at Harvard, "Linsanity" has struck.
Penn's student section made a sign that read "Not Even Jeremy Could Help You Tonight."
Harvard could have used Lin – its former star and the latest toast of New York with the Knicks – against the pesky Quakers. Lin did just about everything at Harvard except lead the Crimson into the NCAA tournament.
Lin scored 25 points Saturday – after crashing at teammate Landry Fields' place because his brother, with whom he normally stays, had company. He then scored a career-best 28 Monday in his first NBA start, a victory over Utah.
The Crimson were peppered with as many questions about Lin as they were about shutting down Penn's Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini.
Wright called Lin an inspiration.
"I'm not surprised at all by his success," he said. "He's still family. With the success he gets, we get. We're getting a lot of attention for his success. The first thing they talk about with Jeremy is Harvard. Then they look at Harvard and they see a ranked team for the first time ever."
Rosen kept the Quakers (12-11, 4-2) in the game with a 3-pointer well above the top of the arc that cut it to 53-50 with 23.7 seconds left. The Crimson hung on from the free-throw line and beat Penn for the sixth straight time.
Rosen scored 16 points and Miles Cartwright had 12 for Penn, which has lost two of three to drop out of contention in the conference.
"I think there's a lot of basketball to be played," Penn coach Jerome Allen said. "We're going to need some help."
Harvard has a firm grip on first.
This could be the season Amaker leads Harvard to the NCAA tournament. There is no conference tournament for the Ivy, leaving little room for a losing streak.
"This is one of the somewhat drawbacks of our conference is how challenging and difficult it can be to win our league," Amaker said.
The Crimson nearly let this one get away in the final minutes. Rosen forced a turnover that led to Rob Belcore's layup that made it 51-47. Rosen followed with the way-long 3, after a rushed shot two possessions earlier knocked the bottom of the net.
Harvard sealed it from the line.
It was ugly for both teams. Penn shot 30 percent (8 of 27) in the first half and Harvard only 32 percent (8 of 25). The Quakers missed 17 of 22 3-pointers and the Crimson missed 15 of 19.
Harvard got hot when it mattered most in the second half. Miller put Harvard ahead 33-30 on a 3-pointer and hit a second 3 for a 10-point lead. The Crimson had the composure and the poise to maintain the lead even as the Quakers charged hard down the half in front of a large and loud crowd at the Palestra.
"We knew we had to finish, especially in this atmosphere," Miller said. "It's a lot of fun. I'm not used to this type of atmosphere. But it's been great that people are coming out to see us play."
Not so great for Penn fans. Rosen averaged 18.3 points and Bernardini 14.9 points but neither could get going. Bernardini was scoreless in the first half and had only two points. Rosen scored his 16 on 6-of-21 shooting.
"Usually, I'm a `we' guy. We win. We lose," Rosen said. "I felt like I was totally to blame. I didn't hit the shots that I hit in my sleep, the shots I take day after day."
Rosen and the Quakers are just the latest in a line to get frustrated against the Crimson.