Turn back the clock: Penn basketball's last NCAA tournament
Nowadays, it seems like the closest Penn students come to “March Madness” (besides spring break, of course) is filling out brackets or watching the Big Dance on TV.
But it wasn’t long ago that Penn consistently had the opportunity to experience the real thing on a consistent basis. In fact, in the early to mid 2000s, Penn men’s basketball was a bona fide Ivy League powerhouse, regularly finishing atop the Ancient Eight.
Given the recent struggles of the program — the team finished dead last in the Ivies this year — it may be hard to envision the team dominating the league, but Penn’s storied basketball history is actually not that far in the past. So let’s use the Final Four festivities coming up this weekend as an excuse to turn back the clock to 2007, the last time the Quakers made it to the NCAA Tournament.
Heading into the 2006-07 season, besting the Ivy League had become commonplace for the Red and Blue — they were two time defending champions and had won the league in four of the previous five years.
But something drastic had changed for the program. Legendary coach Fran Dunphy had left after the 2005-06 season to take the Temple head coaching job, leaving the program in the hands of veteran coach Glenn Miller.
The Quakers overcame the coaching turnover — led by seniors Ibrahim Jaaber, Mark Zoller and Steven Danley — and were able to accrue a 13-1 Ivy record and win the Ivies by a three-game margin, earning them an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. They were given a 14-seed and sent to the South region of the bracket, matched up against three-seed Texas A&M.
Despite their relative ease getting through the Ivy regular season, the Quakers experienced adversity from the get-go.
In front of a pro-Penn (and anti-A&M) Rupp Arena crowd, the Quakers were unable to score until more than five minutes into the game — with Danley hampered by a back injury, the Quakers struggled to get going offensively.
“When you play against such a good team … you have to knock down a reasonable amount of shot,” Miller said. “We dug ourselves a hole.”
Meanwhile, the Aggies — led by All-American and future first-round NBA draft pick Acie Law — would take control of the game.
The Quakers fought back. With Danley essentially a non-factor, Jaaber and Zoller carried the load offensively for Penn. Within the first nine minutes of the second half, the Quakers went on a 19-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 39-37, much to the approval of the crowd.
“They did a great job of converting those plays, and we did a bad job of finishing them,” Law said of the Quakers’ run.
However, it would ultimately turn out to also be Penn’s last lead of the game.
With just under 12 minutes remaining, A&M forward Joseph Jones tip-slammed a Law miss to tie the game. On the very next possession, the same thing happened: Law missed and Jones slammed it home.
The Aggies would not relinquish the lead, overwhelming the Quakers for the rest of the game and taking home a 68-52 victory.
“Getting taken out of the game, just knowing that there’s not a tomorrow, it kind of hit me there a little bit,” Jaaber said of his last collegiate game.
The Aggies would go on to lose in the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Red and Blue are still searching for their first Tourney win since 1994, a search that has no clear end in sight.