Penn basketball came into the Saturday, Jan. 11 game trying to break a long losing streak and beat arch-rival Princeton. I followed the high-fives and lows, the frustration and jubilation of the Red and Blue as they won their first Ivy game of the season.
6:02 p.m. — The game is closing in on tip-off with the crowd slowly filling up the historic Palestra. As Penn’s starting five walk toward center court, senior captain Dau Jok high fives every player on the bench, getting them excited.
“We need [Dau] to be big for us,” senior guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright said postgame, “whether that is him playing every night or if it is him cheering and leading us from the bench.”
6:03 — Shortly after the opening tip, the Quakers find sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry in the post for his first basket after returning from a concussion. The game is tied at two.
6:04 — The bench erupts as Jok is the first to get up after another Nelson-Henry basket.
6:11 — After a media timeout, assistant coach Jason Polykoff is vocal in the team’s huddle. Head coach Jerome Allen moves in front of his team, lets the players talk and then begins giving directions after starting quietly.
6:15 — Nelson-Henry scores again and moves slowly up the court with excitement. 17-10, Quakers.
6:24 — With Penn leading 25-18 halfway through the opening period, Jackson-Cartwright runs to the locker room.
6:25 — Jackson-Cartwright is back, adjusting the waistband of his shorts. With the game in full-swing, the players on the bench are more silent than earlier in the game.
6:26 — This quickly changes after sophomore Julian Harrell finds Nelson-Henry in the post, and the forward known as “DNH” points to his teammate after scoring. The whole bench gets up while injured junior Camryn Crocker waves his arms to get the crowd involved.
6:27 — After a Princeton steal, Allen calls a timeout. He ventures near halfcourt and shakes his head before speaking to his team.
6:41 — Princeton calls a timeout after Tony Hicks goes coast-to-coast for a layup. Harrell motions for the fans to get up. The Palestra is the loudest it has been at all night.
6:43 — During the timeout, coach Scott Pera crouches down to speak to the seated 6-foot-11 DNH. The sophomore nods in agreement before re-entering the game.
6:46 — Hicks finds Dougherty for an easy basket and Jok is the first one up again, raising his index and pinky fingers high in the air.
6:50 — Jackson-Cartwright hits a three right before the half, prompting Crocker to stick out three fingers on each hand, standing behind his teammates.
6:51 — The Quakers walk off the court for halftime, holding a 43-38 lead. Pera stands and pats players on the back while Jackson-Cartwright high-fives Nelson-Henry before speaking to him.
7:03 — Penn comes back out to the floor. Harrell slowly goes through his free throw motion while his teammates quickly progress through layups.
7:07 — Penn huddles for a timeout. Jok puts his arms around senior Steve Rennard and junior Henry Brooks while watching Allen.
7:09 — The Red and Blue kick off the half on a 6-0 run, culminating in a Nelson-Henry dunk. The fans immediately get up as the Tigers call timeout. The entire Penn squad goes out to meet its teammates at midcourt.
7:15 — Jackson-Cartwright leaves the game, and the trainer finds him at the end of the bench. He drinks a Powerade while the trainer rubs his thighs with ice.
7:18- Hicks goes on a fast break for a dunk. After a quick celebration, everyone on the bench sits down except for freshman Tony Bagtas. Bagtas sits down after a Tigers three-pointer.
7:22 — Jackson-Cartwright re-enters the game with the team up 10, 53-43, with 15:22 to go in the game.
7:24 — He promptly leaves the game after a Princeton foul. With a clear grimace, he goes back to the locker room.
“It was disappointing [to be dealing with injuries] because I felt like we started the half on a run,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “I kept telling the trainer, Sam, to keep working at it because I am ready to go at the end. I can give you two minutes at the end.”
7:25 — Hicks makes an acrobatic shot before falling to the floor. He quickly gets back on defense and turns the ball over while Harrell dives for the ball, going directly into press row as reporters protect their laptops.
7:28 — Recently having come back into the game, Jackson-Cartwright commits an offensive foul. He is visibly frustrated with the call, putting his hands up in the air in front of the referee.
7:30 — Hicks commits his third foul and is taken out of the game. Polykoff points at players on the court but Hicks mistakes it for a high-five.
7:34 — Allen calls a timeout after a 7-0 Princeton run. He walks toward the free throw line, rubbing his goatee in frustration.
7:36- Gunter dives for a loose ball in front of Penn’s bench. After the ball goes out of bounds, Jok, Greg Louis and Penn’s four freshman sitting on the bench quickly get him back on his feet.
7:37- With 10 minutes to go, Princeton misses the tying three. The crowd starts a “Let’s go Quakers” chant for the first time all night.
7:39- Hicks rebounds after his own miss and dishes to an open Dougherty. Jok stands to applaud as Fran draws a foul.
7:44 — Princeton takes its first lead of the second half and its crowd, led by its band in vintage orange suits, is vocally supporting the Tigers.
7:48 — The bench stands up in unison as sophomore Jamal Lewis hits a three, but sits when the Tigers respond with a two.
7:50 — Nelson-Henry draws a foul and goes to the free throw line. Jackson-Cartwright flexes his legs as the sophomore’s shots go up. The senior leaves the game while assistant coach Ira Bowman tries to keep the bench engaged.
7:53 — Hicks is called for a blocking foul. He proceeds to leave the game after fouling out out with 3:56 to go. Crocker walks with his hands on his head in disbelief.
7:55 — Jackson-Cartwright gets his thighs rubbed down again by the trainer.
8:00 — A steal by Princeton guard Ben Hazel leads to a tie score, 71-71, with 2:14 to go. Allen uses his second timeout in a 30-second span.
8:02 — A foul is called on Hazel, putting Lewis on the line. He makes his first free throw, putting Penn ahead, and the bench loves it.
8:05 — On Princeton’s next possession, Lewis rebounds the ball, drawing another foul. Jackson-Cartwright motions his team back to the bench.
8:09 — Lewis makes his first free throw. Jok and Gunter each put one finger in the air. He proceeds to swish his second shot.
8:11 — Princeton forward Will Barrett hits a three to tie the game, leaving just 20 seconds left as Penn calls timeout. Allen sits to draw up a play.
“I knew before the Princeton possession, before Barrett hit the three, that we would get another chance regardless of what happened,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “I still knew we were going to win the game.”
8:12 — The entire crowd stands as Harrell takes the ball up court. Jackson-Cartwright drives, drawing a foul before looking to the bench. The entire team is jumping up and down. Allen calmly puts Brooks back in.
8:13 — Hicks fist pumps after Jackson-Cartwright’s first shot puts Penn ahead. He makes the second as well.
“[Miles] took three shot, and he was probably the most important player on the floor for us,” Allen said. “Calming guys down, coaching guys. It says a lot that a senior captain can go out and take three shots and be that excited about winning. That says a lot.”
8:16 — Dougherty comes up with a steal on Princeton’s final possession. Jackson-Cartwright slams the scorer’s table in excitement while Jok is on his knees. Lewis celebrates at midcourt while Brooks holds the ball triumphantly.
8:17 — Dougherty’s second shot misses, and Princeton can’t take another shot. Penn wins, 77-74. DNH hugs Dougherty. Pera fist pumps before hugging Jackson-Cartwright in front of the bench. Allen and Polykoff walk off with smiles. Jok shows off his dance moves and hugs junior Greg Louis.
“Dau is the most important person in this program, more than anybody,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “His impact on and off the court, the way he brings us together, the way he puts his foot down when he needs to, it’s everything we need.
“Someone on the periphery can’t tell how important Dau is by looking at the box score. The only thing he cares about is if he plays well, not if he is going to play or if he gets to shoot.”