When Tony Hicks, Jamal Lewis and Miles Cartwright arrived at the Palestra at 10 minutes to six on Tuesday night, Shoemaker Green was tranquil, with only the sound of a passing cab disrupting an otherwise peaceful scene.
Depending on the perspective, that moment could be viewed as the calm before the storm that is Penn-Princeton, or the lull that fell over Penn throughout this season. By the end of the night, it would prove to be both.
The players walked into the Palestra and went down the northwest tunnel, catching a few minutes of the women’s hoops game before exiting into their locker room.
Both Penn and Princeton’s men watched their female counterparts as the Quakers took the lead over the Ivy League Champions only to fall short in the waning minutes, a sign of things to come.
As of 7 p.m., with half an hour until tip-off, there were two surprisingly similar sights: Not many fans had shown up and the Quakers had yet to take the floor, while Princeton had been hard at work for the previous five minutes.
A minute later, the latter problem was solved. Dau Jok came trotting out and started hoisting three after three. He was soon joined by his teammates.
While a disappointing season led some to believe that the fan turnout wouldn’t be strong, people came out in droves. The crowd was close to the one from 10 days before, when Penn upset Harvard.
And the Quakers played like they did against the Crimson as well —at least for the first half.
Over the course of these 31 games, many words have been spent on the Quakers’ ability to stay energized. But the Red and Blue, Hicks in particular, fed off of the crowd against Princeton.
Hicks hit jumper after jumper, getting the crowd going and walking into the locker room at halftime with 17 points.
Both sophomore Greg Louis’ dunk and freshman Darien Nelson-Henry’s rejection of Ivy Player of the Year Ian Hummer got the Palestra crowd on its feet.
But the relationship between fan and team does not simply revolve around the fans providing energy to the team. Rather, it is a mutual relationship.
And while the Quakers were able to ride the wave of fan support for 20 minutes, they came out flat in the second half, taking the crowd with them.
Hicks scored just five points in the season’s final 20 minutes and the Red and Blue couldn’t go the distance.
The energy that a packed Palestra brings helps drive the Quakers. And once upon a time, the team’s record would drive those fans to come to games.
While this has been a rebuilding year, coach Jerome Allen knows that has to change next season.
“I thought as the season progressed, the team itself started taking shape,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, the standard here is we win championships.”
To cap the evening, in a line that encapsulates the divide between the team and everyone else, a reporter asked Allen to give his thoughts on Penn basketball’s seniors.
“I can’t,” he said. “There aren’t any.”
Next year, though, there will be several. And if those seniors are, as Allen suggested, going to compete for a championship, then the fans will come.
But on this breezy Tuesday, as Allen addressed the media for the final time this season, the fans left.
Some complained about the lack of heart. Other lamented yet another game slipping away.
In this love affair between Penn’s fans and their team, it’s the Quakers’ move to make the sweeping romantic gesture.
It’ll just have to wait until next year.
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