#1. Comeback game against Princeton in 2005. That was by far the loudest I have ever heard the Palestra. Recall that coming in to that season, Princeton was the heavy favorite to repeat as Ivy champs. They returned basically their whole team and were even receiving votes in the AP Top 25 early in the year. But Princeton came in at 1-3 in the league, while Penn, at 4-0, could see a path to the title. Except they were down 18 late in the second half, and against Princeton’s deliberate system, 18 feels like 30.
Then the most incredible things started to happen. Eric Osmundson gets a four-point play. Jan Fikiel his some huge threes. Judson Wallace fouls out — Scott Graham’s call of this, available on YouTube, is fantastic: “earlier in the game he got away with a hook, this time Joe DeMayo says the hook is on him!” — with about a minute to go, which proves critical in the overtime. And when Osmundson hits the free throws to finally tie the game, the building was shaking. This was really the keystone game of the Jaaber-Zoller-Danley run of three straight league titles.
#2. Hawaii trip 2006. I’ve seen Penn play at both Duke and Carolina, but this was definitely the best road trip covering the team. It was a two game swing to Oahu right after Christmas 2005. The first was a win against the University of Hawaii, which at the time was a fairly decent WAC squad. Two nights later the team took a ride around the island to play BYU-Hawaii.
Of course you’ve never heard of this. It’s a Division II school. But believe me, Laie, Hawaii, is lovely. The game was played at BYU’s nice on-campus gym, which had room for about 4,000. There were at best 75 people there: a couple dozen Penn fans along with wives and families of the BYU players, most of whom were at least 25.
Let’s just say the locals were none too pleased with some of the salty language from both Fran Dunphy and the Penn fans, who shall we say accurately represented a Philly school. The game was a mess. Half the team was sick, having eaten some bad seafood the night before. Penn actually fell behind in the second half. And Brian Grandieri was called for a technical foul for reasons that still escape explanation. This one made Saturday night Ivy League refs look good. Still, the team won, and we were at the beach on New Year’s Eve. Hard to beat that. (Sidebar: this is where the Hawaii license plate came from in the DPOSTM office. I stole it off an abandoned car. True story.)
#3. Villanova at the FU Center, 2002. Nothing particularly remarkable happened in this game, but I’ll remember it for two things. One, Penn crushed Villanova. This wasn’t the best Villanova team — they went 8-8 in the Big East, but they did have Randy Foye and Allan Ray and they did make the NIT. Also the Quakers with Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong were awesome that season. This game was not particularly competitive. The second thing was the seats. Even though the Center was less than half full, Villanova stuck the Penn contingent in the top of the upper level. This was the genesis of one of my all-time favorite rollouts, unfurled late in the second half: “Hey, what’s the score down there?” This hearkens back to a time when a) students brought rollouts to every game, and b) said rollouts were usually funny.
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