There’s no escaping it — Penn men’s basketball choked in the end of its Ivy League Tournament loss to Princeton.
Despite leading for virtually the entire game, and despite the fact that Princeton did not hold a lead until overtime, the Quakers had their hearts broken when Myles Stephens put back a second offensive rebound into the net with just seconds left to send the game into overtime.
The league-champion Tigers went on to dominate in overtime and advance to the final of the tournament. Penn’s spirit looked remarkably shattered after the final whistle, but the players can go home with their heads held high.
Here are five positive lessons to draw out of the heartbreak:
Penn can hang with the very best
The Quakers did not trail for one single second in regulation. They led for the entire game, until Princeton tied it up with eight minutes left at 49. The contest was then tied up at 51. And 53. And 57. And 59.
The Tigers’ first lead in the game didn’t come until overtime. This was the same team that went 14-0 in the regular season, and on Saturday, they looked second-best to the No. 4 Quakers. They had the talent to weather the storm, but Penn was surely the better team on the day.
Penn had the fire, the passion and the grit to maintain control of the game right until the final minutes. The team just didn’t have the cutting edge of talent that Princeton was able to take advantage of.
After a long season of ups and downs, the Quakers can go home with their heads held high knowing that they can hang with the very best. Coming seconds away from beating Princeton along with wins over Harvard and Yale shows that this team is capable of more than it achieved this season.
And that’s good news for the future.
Ivy League Player of the Year contender in 2018: Ryan Betley
What a story this season has been for the rookie Ryan Betley.
The freshman sharpshooter was the best player on the floor Saturday. He led Penn in points, shooting percentage and rebounds, harrying around the court for 40 minutes. He crashed the boards, he finessed layups and he drained threes. In short, he posed an all-around threat that no one else on the court could match.
But he started the season on the sidelines with a broken arm. It took him until a few games into conference play to feature for his team, and he did not for one second look back.
Betley only got better as he got games under his belt, and he finished the season as the team’s best player — the kind of inside-outside athlete that coach Steve Donahue has dreamed of recruiting.
Next year, the team could very well be built around him. And that could pay dividends down the stretch, both for the player and for the team.
Penn is the most entertaining team in the Ivy League
The Quakers may not be the most talented team in the league — and their regular season record of 6-8 proves it — but they sure are the most entertaining.
Whenever opposing coaches praise Penn, as Princeton’s Mitch Henderson did after his team’s victory on Saturday, they always mention the team’s spirit and mentality. Henderson said that Penn’s aggression put his Princeton on its heels for almost the entire game.
So the Red and Blue has can boast heart and the grit as its primary assets. No disrespect to their talent — the three freshmen at the very least are certainly the real deal — but that’s what makes the team so entertaining to watch in the first place.
The zero to hero “Zombie Quakers” story was one of the greatest in Penn basketball history. Obviously, a fairy tale NCAA Tournament ending would have been even better, but this will do. It was still the greatest storyline in the league this season.
Home court advantage is totally a thing
On Friday before any games had been played, coach Steve Donahue argued that his team didn’t have any home court advantage. It was Spring Break, he said, so it wasn’t like there would be 7,000 students in attendance.
Well, there may not have been 7,000 students, but there were at least a couple thousand students and alumni that combined to form a raucous, rowdy atmosphere. When the ball tipped off against Princeton, boy, was the Palestra rocking.
Thankfully, Princeton’s coach Henderson gracefully said that he didn’t regret having the tournament at the Palestra, as it’s the best venue for the event. If Henderson is happy, despite having almost been scalped by that home court advantage, then hopefully the league will, too, and the tournament will stay at its rightful home.
You’ll be seeing this team again next year. And the year after that.
Starting three freshmen today for Penn was a statement of intent. The trio of rookies deserved to be there, as some of the best players on the team, and that bodes very well for the team in the future.
The loss of senior Matt Howard will be a large blow to the team, but the Quakers will recover. The freshmen will only get better, meaning that so will the squad.
If the final eight games of the regular season are anything to go by, Penn will surely finish in the top four of the league next season. They could even place second, with a potential title challenge in the works, though Princeton will remain strong as ever.
One thing is for sure though — if Penn plays like it did on Saturday, and in the final half of the season, it will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
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