Camryn Crocker stood in disbelief, Cornell’s bench erupted and the Palestra crowd howled boos upon the referee making the call.
Five-second violation, Penn. Cornell would get the ball up two with 2.7 seconds remaining.
And three personals under the limit, the Red and Blue couldn’t even foul in a desperate attempt to get one last chance.
The play pretty much summed up the Quakers’ Ivy League season: over before it really even started.
It didn’t have to be that way.
Galal Cancer’s go-ahead deuce rolled in with 10.5 seconds still left to go, and it took Jerome Allen nearly eight more ticks to call a timeout when Miles Cartwright couldn’t make anything happen.
“Down two, with the ball, under 10, coaches have different philosophies,” Allen said. “It’s [the players’] game, they got to make the play. I saw that we got in trouble so I called a timeout.”
Whatever play Allen drew up, well, it was moot. The Quakers squandered an opportunity and never even took a shot — not even a last-second heave.
A wide-open Ancient Eight stands ripe for the taking, and nearly any team stands a chance to claim it.
It just won’t be Penn.
“Hey,” you say, “but they’re only 1-2. There’s plenty of basketball left.”
Well sure, there is. And yes, the Quakers were in the title hunt with two ticks in the loss column right up until the final game a season ago.
But don’t fool yourself. Don’t expect this Penn team to be able to repeat that feat. Don’t start scoreboard-watching now, waiting for Harvard to be upset — it’s nearly happened three times already, yet it hasn’t happened once.
Tame your expectations. Keep coming to the Palestra to root, root, root for your classmates. But also don’t expect an Ivy title run.
You never really believed one was possible anyway, did you? Not with a squad as young and underdeveloped as this one?
Maybe Friday offered a glimmer of hope. Fran Dougherty returned. Miles Cartwright was Mr. Clutch down the stretch. And Penn beat by four a very good Columbia team that they should’ve topped by even more.
Oh right, I almost forgot. Has it been mentioned that Dougherty left Saturday’s game in the second half with an apparent arm injury?
The 6-foot-8 big man who leads the Quakers in just about everything but games played — he missed eight because of a bout with mono — drove to the bucket and drew a foul but fell hard on the floor.
He stayed down for a while, enough for the trainers to come out, before he was helped off the court. Later, he sported a sling on his arm while relegated to the sidelines.
With him, perhaps Penn had a shot. But now that there’s a good chance he could miss some more time — and even if he plays, he’ll be far from full strength — forget about it.
And you know what? It’s all right.
If Penn goes 7-7 in league play, yes, that would be a mediocre record. It wouldn’t necessarily be a mediocre season.
This year is, and always has been, a rebuilding season.
It’s why Jerome Allen used so many combinations of lineups in the early going.
It’s why freshman guard Jamal Lewis has gone from starting and playing 30 minutes per night, to seeing just seven minutes Friday, to getting no time at all Saturday.
It’s why freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry has moved up from benchwarmer to solid starter and has averaged 13.6 points (on 64 percent shooting!) in his last seven contests.
He’s coming into his own and finding his groove. Next year, it’ll really pay off.
So if you witnessed Saturday night’s anticlimactic finale and left the Palestra cursing under your breath, calm yourself. A loss could pay just as many dividends as a win would have.
There’s plenty of basketball left to be played. Just not enough for unrealistic pipe dreams.
MIKE WISNIEWSKI is a senior classical studies major from Philadelphia and is a former sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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