Before last week’s game against Quinnipiac, coach Jerome Allen said this postseason tournament was a continuation of the 2011-12 Penn basketball season.
But without seniors Mike Howlett and Tyler Bernardini, who have sat out injured the last two games, Penn’s underclassmen were forced into the spotlight. The postseason — which came to an end Monday night in a 63-53 loss to Butler — was not so much a continuation of the Quakers’ best season since 2006-07, but rather a glimpse of what’s to come.
Sophomore Fran Dougherty had a career game with nine points, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Miles Cartwright led his team with confidence, acrobatic drives to the hoop and a team-high 12 points. Sophomore Marin Kukoc finally built up some confidence in his three-point shooting and offensive game.
Freshman Simeon Esprit — playing his first significant minutes of his young career — made important plays for the Red and Blue, including a corner three with under a minute remaining. And lastly, Henry Brooks capped a season in which he contributed more than anyone could have ever imagined from a player who tore his ACL just 11 months ago.
And though it was his final game at the Palestra in a Quakers uniform, senior Zack Rosen said he had gone through most of the “emotional stuff” after Penn’s loss to Princeton two weeks ago. With their ultimate goal not reached, the Quakers moved on.
“We got together and tried to treat this as a new season, a new opportunity,” Rosen said of the College Basketball Invitational.
Allen saw the CBI as an extension of Penn’s campaign, he saw these final two games as part of a bigger picture.
“In terms of progression, yes, I think our returning players sense a certain standard, certain sense of normalcy,” Allen said. “Ultimately our goal isn’t to play in the CBI, but we had an opportunity. To have this taste of the postseason … I think it’ll do them well in terms of preparing for the next season.”
While the Red and Blue fought to the end and certainly made the best of the chance to continue playing, one glare on the page remains: a loss.
Even with Rosen’s on-court presence and leadership — Butler suffocated the Ivy League’s Player of the Year — the young squad couldn’t come up with a victory against an equally young opponent.
Up by two midway through the second, the Quakers allowed a 9-0 run. Turnovers, fouls, missed shots and missed rebounds gave Butler the looks it needed to pull ahead.
Though Penn continued to fight back throughout the contest — cutting the deficit to two with under seven minutes to go — this young squad couldn’t find a way to win, unlike the Quakers of the regular season that pulled out last-minute victory after last-minute victory.
Perhaps though, this tournament was exactly what the freshmen and sophomores needed. Perhaps Monday’s season-ending loss will imprint in their minds a desire to win against all odds.
Allen called it a “springboard,” one he hopes his players can jump from next season. And if one thing is for sure — though nothing in college basketball really is — they’ll need that springboard. If only for a leap of faith.
MEGAN SOISSON is a junior health and societies major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and is Senior Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her e-mail address is Soisson@theDP.com.