I have been a Penn student for two years, four months, two weeks and six days.
But before Saturday night, for all the games I’ve covered, I had never seen Penn basketball win a Big 5 game. I did not know what a Big 5 win looked, sounded, tasted, smelled or felt like. Nor did the majority of people with whom I associate.
Along with every member of the junior, sophomore and freshman classes, the Red and Blue were a scathing 0-for-our-college-careers against other teams from Philadelphia, having lost every Big 5 game since Jan. 21, 2012.
Yet in front of a sold-out Palestra crowd, with junior guard Tony Hicks on the bench for most of the first half due to foul trouble and St. Joseph’s guard DeAndre Bembry on his way to 25 points, the Quakers did something else that fans haven’t seen them do in quite a while: They persevered.
Albeit during a low-scoring first half, the combination of play from senior guard Cam Crocker and senior forward Greg Louis and the raucous Palestra crowd were enough to help Penn stay alive before Hicks and junior center Darien Nelson-Henry combined for 25 second-half points to put the game and the Quakers’ first Big 5 win in 12 attempts away down the stretch.
It’s hard not to feel some sort of positive emotion after a game like that. In a contest that the Red and Blue might historically have given away, the squad did its home arena proud in winning against a competitive opponent for the first time in a long time. While the Hawks may be struggling this season, rivalry games are always the toughest on any team’s schedule.
The disappointing aspect of both Saturday’s win and last weekend’s closer-than-predicted matchup with then-No. 5 Villanova is that Penn can only take 50 percent of the credit for those games and the enthusiastic Palestra environments they generated.
With half the crowd in both of those games composed of the opposing team’s fans, only around 4,000 people in attendance on Saturday know what a Big 5 win is like. If — at best — one-fifth of that figure represents Penn students, only 800 people to whom Penn Athletics should cater understand this win.
But there is no reason it cannot be like this every night at the Palestra. From the past two Big 5 games alone, two contests in which attendance crossed 17,000 and the Quakers played their best basketball, it is clear that the Red and Blue feed off the venue’s energy.
While it may seem circular to debate whether winning increases attendance or attendance increases win totals, it’s now on Jerome Allen and his players to give the program’s supporters a reason to come back (or come for the first time). With Ivy weekend doubleheaders set to begin next weekend at, you guessed it, the Palestra, there has been no better opportunity for the team to cultivate legitimate momentum like this in years.
Right now, this is one Big 5 win. But if Saturday’s victory can translate into one Ivy win, then an Ivy weekend sweep and eventually a .500 Ivy record this season, it may be the first building block for Allen to turn this program around.
Because building blocks aren’t simply players; they are the results one gets while on the court.
So Saturday’s win may not mean anything in the long run. It is, after all, a nonconference win for a team that only need measure itself in relation to its seven Ivy opponents.
But if it’s a win that gets people to show up and reinforce the team’s spirit, it may be the beginning of something interesting.
Who knows? I certainly don’t.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait two years, four months, two weeks and six days to find out.Comments powered by Disqus
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