PRINCETON, N.J. — After Tuesday night, it was all over for the Quakers.
There was no Ivy playoff, no cutting down the nets, no ‘Selection Sunday’ anticipation and no NCAA Tournament hopes.
The Penn men’s basketball team could not clinch a share of its first Ancient Eight title since the 2006-07 season, as the Quakers fell to archrival Princeton last Tuesday night at Jadwin Gymnasium, 62-52.
“I just thought that when we started the game, [Princeton] really didn’t have anything to play for — except to be the spoilers,” Penn coach Jerome Allen reflected afterward. “How can a team that’s supposedly playing for nothing play harder than a team that’s playing for something? And that’s really what blew my mind.”
Allen was referring his team’s dreadful start, which spotted the Tigers a 17-point lead just over 15 minutes into the first half. Though the Quakers had only six points at the time, he was most frustrated with his team’s defensive effort.
“Okay, the ball wasn’t going in,” Allen said. “But defensively, they just got whatever they wanted — back doors, offensive rebounds, open jump shots, layups — and I think that’s really the problem.”
In the first half, the Quakers came out ice cold. Though star senior Zack Rosen converted five of 10 shots, the rest of the team could only hit three of 14 attempts. But Princeton’s 13 turnovers allowed Penn to stay within striking distance, and the Red and Blue entered the locker room down, 27-17.
To begin the second half, Penn seemed to find a new energy. A tip-in by sophomore Fran Dougherty, who finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, capped a 9-2 run that cut the Tigers’ lead to 34-31 at the 12:22 mark. It spurred Princeton coach Mitch Henderson to call a timeout.
“We put together about four or five consecutive stops, and I think that’s what enabled us to get back in the game,” Allen said.
But immediately following the timeout, the Tigers brought their lead back up to double digits with a 7-0 run.
“I don’t know whether it was fatigue,” Allen said. “It’s 40 minutes of your life to have something that you can share with your grandchildren, so it can’t be a function of fatigue. It just came down to desire.”
This time, Penn had no answer. In the final 10 minutes, the Quakers would get no closer than six points.
With the loss, the program’s title drought extends to five years, matching 1988-1992 as the longest period Penn has gone without a championship since it claimed its first Ivy crown in 1966. Harvard earned the Ivy’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
It also means seniors Rosen, Rob Belcore and Tyler Bernardini will graduate without ever hanging a banner from the Palestra rafters.
“We didn’t play as hard as we could and we lost,” said Rosen, who finished with 19 points but shot an un-Rosen-like 8-for-24 from the field. “Whether you’re close or you’re not close, you either win or you don’t.”
Belcore, who is often commended by Allen for his hustle and his will to win, was disappointed with his own effort and felt he let his teammate Rosen down.
“I thought he could carry us through the whole way, and he almost did,” said Belcore, who scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds to go with three assists and four steals. But he was upset with his defensive play on Princeton’s Ian Hummer, who finished with 18 points.
“My M.O. is supposed to be a guy who lines people up and plays defense,” he said. “I should’ve done better. I don’t care what they run, any system, what it comes down to is stopping the person that’s in front of you, and I didn’t do that.”
Though Allen consistently called the season “disappointing” afterward, he did express appreciation for his senior class.
“These guys bought in,” Allen said. “When your best players get it — they give it every day in practice, they’re diving on the floor for loose balls and taking film home by themselves to study — that kind of allows me to do my job a lot easier.”