When the basketball rolled off the fingertips of Ugonna Onyekwe and bounced precariously in front of the Penn bench with the shot clock winding down and the game clock ticking under a minute, Jeff Schiffner was there.
He was just there -- in the perfect spot at the perfect time. With the Quakers holding on to a flimsy two-point lead over Yale Saturday night, Schiffner gobbled up the loose ball, set his feet and buried his first three-pointer of the game, singlehandedly sticking a dagger in Yale's collective heart.
And now the Penn basketball team is alive for another day, and Yale coach James Jones is haunted by Schiffner's late-game heroics.
"It wasn't their offense, it wasn't a set play," a testy Jones said in the post-game press conference. "But the luck of the Irish, the ghosts of Penn's past -- and that guy knocked down the shot."
I don't think Schiffner is Irish, and I'm even surer he didn't conjure up images of Tony Price, Matt Maloney or Matt Langel when that shot left his hands.
But this brings us to another question. Are the 2001-2002 Penn Quakers destined to win the Ivy League title?
How else can you explain the Quakers' near-immaculate out-of-conference record, punctuated by their undefeated run through the Big 5? It would be a shame if a team with 20 wins and an RPI in the 40's had to sit home and watch the NCAA tournament on CBS.
How else can you explain Penn drawing a technical foul on Hooter the Owl? I don't know what this means, but I'm sure it means something.
How else can you explain fan-favorite Dan Solomito hitting a three almost at the buzzer against Dartmouth last weekend to give fans exactly what they wanted the entire game -- free cheesesteaks? No one had a bigger smile after that game than Solomito himself.
How else can you explain a dunk from a pure shooter who stands six-foot-five on a good day and has rocked the rim only twice before -- in his life. "I've had many missed dunk opportunities," said Tim Begley, who followed an Andrew Toole miss with a one-handed jam in the closing minutes against Brown on Friday. "My two-inch vertical finally paid off."
And then, of course there was Schiffner's shot. Destiny.
And now, after an action-packed, heart-stopping, mind-numbing weekend of great basketball at the Palestra, the Quakers have regained control of their own destiny.
Forget the what-ifs and the out-of-town scores and all the possible scenarios. I'll lay it out there nice and simply -- the Quakers will be in the NCAA tournament if they win the rest of their Ivy League games.
The way this team is playing as of late, that should be all you need to know.
After Penn's loss at Yale on Feb. 8, it would have been rather easy for the Quakers to pack it in. After all, how often does a team with three league losses win the Ivies? And with supposedly so much parity in the conference, Penn was sure to lose at least a couple of more games.
Instead, the Quakers have answered that loss in New Haven with six victories, clobbering their opponents by an average margin of 21 points. What parity?
Yale came to Penn and Princeton this past weekend with youthful confidence -- maybe even a trace of arrogance -- and the upperhand in the race for the Ancient Eight title. The Elis had already beaten Penn and Princeton once -- prompting Jones to crown his team "kings" -- so they surely could replicate their past triumphs.
But the traditional powerhouses showed that imposters will not be taken lightly. A Penn-Princeton sweep knocked Yale off its perch and severely threatened the Elis hopes for their first Ivy title since 1962.
Now the Quakers and Tigers both control their own destiny. Yale does not.
And if destiny takes sides, you can be sure that Penn's Ivy ring is as good as won.
Call it the luck of the Irish.
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