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Sophomore guard Matt Poplawski ran the point for Penn basketball for a majority of the second half in the Quakers' 71-56 loss to Brown on Saturday.

Credit: Ilana Wurman

Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel once said that the opposite of love was not hate, but indifference.

And this Valentine’s Day, Penn basketball — from its fans to its players — seemed basically indifferent to the outcome of its game against last-place Brown, which resulted in a cringe-inducing 71-55 loss.

To be fair, it’s difficult to get emotionally invested in that which is essentially irrelevant. It was a game between two bottom feeders of a bottom feeder conference that wasn’t interesting enough to keep a posse of Penn football recruits around for the second half.

The highlights of the game included a student winning $5,000 by banking in a half-court shot during a timeout and a Penn soccer player — Matt Poplawski — running the point for much of the second half, which is a bit like a restaurant’s lighting being the highlight of a four-course meal.

This Penn team — and its sparsely populated student section — has all but forgotten what it is like to be relevant in the Ancient Eight title race, and it shows. Before tip-off, Brown looked excited — the Bears smelled an opportunity to show they are better than their conference record suggests.

Penn looked uninterested.

In a sense, this game should have been hyper-relevant for coach Jerome Allen, who has been on the hot seat for just short of an eternity.

Penn had only lost to Yale and Brown at home in the same season in one other year — well, last year — and the Quakers’ worst loss to the Bears at home was by nine points until Saturday’s defeat, a loss that marked only the eighth Brown win at the Palestra since 1954. And this Brown team entered the game tied for dead last in the Ancient Eight with its best player, Leland King, having recently called it quits mid-season.

This is all to say that playing Brown at home is the closest thing to a gimme the Quakers will see in league play this season — a Valentine’s Day gift, if you will. But Penn looked like a young bachelor on an awkward first date.

After suffering a few too many ugly breakups, Penn basketball has lost its confidence and with it the ability to perform even the most basic maneuvers. Saturday’s contest was the equivalent of trying to pull a date’s chair out for her and instead tripping and knocking her into the waiter, who is carrying a tray of full wine glasses.

Yes, it was red wine. Yes, her dress was ruined.

Penn’s laundry list of erratic errors seemed endless. At one point, Tony Hicks collided with Greg Louis and knocked the ball out of his teammate’s hands. He also hurled a pass over the head of Mike Auger that landed several rows up in the student section. Darien Nelson-Henry set at least one moving screen, Antonio Woods air-balled a three in the failed comeback effort and the team shot an abysmal 33.9 percent from the field.

They were the sort of miscues that made the game feel more like a very sad fifth grade CYO game than a Division I NCAA matchup — they were the sort of mistakes made by players who are so disillusioned that they have forgotten how to play the game of basketball.

The danger here is gradually falling out of love with the game completely and becoming indifferent to it. Young players like Woods, Auger and Matt Howard still play with an energy that suggests they remain hopeful for the future. But veterans like Hicks and Nelson-Henry, who should be leading the fight, seem directionless, as if all of the losses have taken their emotional toll.

Penn basketball — and its fan base — have had their hearts broken too many times over the last few years, and this loss on Valentine’s Day seems to simultaneously symbolize and deepen all of that pain.

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