It's sadly appropriate that Fran Dunphy decided to have his team take SEPTA, and not a charter bus, to the Apollo for last night's game against Temple. That slogan has virtually been the theme for the Quakers this season. These public transportation poster boys always seem to leave the impression that the proverbial hump is just around the corner, but they never seem to make it over. "We had our opportunity," Dunphy said after last night's 44-40 loss to the Owls. "And it's disappointing that way, but hopefully we're learning and getting a little bit better as a basketball team, and I think we know we have the ability to be there." Except it is now late January, and Dunphy's words are starting to ring a little more hollow, a little more thin than they might have after Kentucky or Auburn. Almost halfway into the season, the Quakers are 5-7. And they are winless in three tries in the Big 5. SEPTA may be getting there, but the Quakers have played like the Tantalus of college basketball. Like the legendary Greek and his out-of-reach grapes, the much-needed big win -- the game where the talented freshmen and seasoned vets would finally gel -- still seems to lie just beyond their grasp. There were four games on the schedule that seemed to jump off the page in the preseason, their looming enough to make any Penn fan giddy. Kentucky. Auburn. Kansas. Temple. Teams that would all be flirting with top-10 rankings. Four distinct opportunities for the obviously talented Quakers -- returning much of last year's Ivy-winning squad and welcoming their most hyped recruiting class in years -- to seize the national spotlight and get some much-deserved attention. Ask any Penn fan in November how many of those games the Quakers would win and the answer would have been: 3-4 wins -- too good to be true; 2 wins -- a distinct possibility; 1 win -- needed vindication at the least. But oh-for-four, that would have seemed inconceivably disappointing. Here we stand, though, on the brink of the Ivy season, without a single major victory to cling to on those cold February nights in Hanover and Ithaca where the basketball is played in well-polished high school gyms. And all of the Quakers' major national opponents have come and gone. Basketball is a sport where an entire season can hinge on one game. Be it a win or a loss, there are those single 40-minute outings that can be the springboard -- where in the next game, everything seems to click. Take Penn-Princeton I last year. After leading 33-9 against the Tigers, Penn blew it, allowing Princeton to roar back and win 50-49 -- the Tigers' sixth straight in the series. Rather than throw in the towel, the Quakers rebounded in the kind of way that seems only fitting when retold in black-and-white, as if some Rockne-esque speech caused the team to rattle off seven wins in their next eight games, get revenge on the Tigers and raise the Ivy banner to the Palestra rafters. When all the preseason prognosticators were predicting a Quakers' ride well into March this season, no one could have known chemistry would have been an issue. Last night, Penn seemed to defeat itself on the court. In the last of the four marquee matchups, the Quakers had more than a few chances to defeat Temple. With the Owls shooting an atrocious 30.2 percent from the floor and making just 8-of-15 from the charity stripe in the second half, Temple all but handed Penn the ball. The Quakers, though, found their own ways to keep that proverbial hump solidly out of reach. A conservative statistician hit Penn with 16 turnovers, but with the way the Quakers were dropping passes, bricking open shots and miscommunicating on the floor, they appeared to be just running in place in their efforts to "get there." "Like coach said, it's been going on all season," Jordan said. "We've got to get it together, do the little things to help us win the game. A shot here, a rebound here?" But Jordan trailed off. In the big wins, the big game players produce. No one is harder on himself after a loss than Jordan. But he and Langel combined to miss 19 three-pointers. In games when a team has gotten there, those shots fall. Instead, the Quakers find their shot selection being questioned. With 2:40 left and Penn down one, the Quakers had the ball with a solid 20 seconds on the clock to work for a shot. But a wide-open Langel let it fly from at least five feet beyond the arc. He missed. Temple's Quincy Wadley responded by draining the kind of clutch 10-foot runner over Langel on the other end that teams starved for a win can only dream about. A minute-and-a-half later, the Quakers had clawed back to within one and had the ball with a chance to go ahead for the first time all half. Penn worked the clock before Langel spotted up from deep on the right side and let one fly. The Red and Blue fans were silent as the ball hovered in the air. It rattled around the rim and out. On the other end, Temple would finally nail the clutch free throws needed to put the game out of reach. In the locker room, a smiling Wadley celebrated Temple's good fortune. "I was real surprised that [Langel and Jordan] were missing those shots," he said. "We were just fortunate. Any other time, they'd knock those shots down and it's a totally different ball game." Unfortunately for Penn, those "other times" haven't come in the big games. And so the Quakers, humble owners of a 5-7 record, are still left wondering when they will stop trying to "get there" and finally reach their destination. After all, there's only so much track left.Comments powered by Disqus
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