PRINCETON, N.J. — You know those times when no matter what you do, even if you do almost everything right, things just don’t quite seem to work out in your favor?
Penn men’s basketball had one of those nights when it traveled up to Princeton on Saturday night. The Quakers huffed and puffed, but they couldn’t knock the Tigers down in a 61-52 loss to open both teams' Ivy League season.
Things didn’t start off well for the Red and Blue (6-6, 0-1 Ivy), who had to deal with a one hour delay due to the winter weather. The delay might have had an effect on the players, who started slow and went down early to Princeton (8-6, 1-0). In the first ten minutes, they shot 22% from the floor, while the Tigers opened up a sizeable lead.
After a dismal first half, coach Steve Donahue’s team went into the locker room with Princeton doubling their score, 34-17. Simply put, things looked bleak.
"We need to chock that first half up to inexperience," Donahue reflected. "This league is different from anything [the freshmen] have faced."
But then the Quakers took the floor again.
The game was even for the first few minutes of the second half, but then Penn’s offense finally started to click. After having gone 25 minutes without even registering an assist, junior guard Darnell Foreman kick-started a Quaker comeback by dishing off to rookie Ryan Betley twice, who drained a pair of threes in the process.
Foreman led the team with 17 total points on the night, with many of them coming from hard-fought layups. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was impressed with the junior's performance.
“That kid Foreman was just running right down our throats,” Henderson said. “He was really hard to guard.”
"He's got really good confidence, and he's getting better as a player," coach Donahue echoed. "I was very impressed with him. Everyone else can go off of his energy."
Sophomore Jackson Donahue joined the scoring frenzy with a pair of threes of his own, and with seven minutes left, the Quakers tied the game at 44. Princeton called a timeout, however, and regrouped. Unfortunately, the upset just wasn’t meant to be.
Penn played a near-perfect 15 minutes in the second half, but to the Quakers' detriment, the wheels came off in the final five minutes.
A series of off-the-rim shots and missed free-throws inhibited the Red and Blue’s progress, while the senior-heavy Tigers flourished in crunch time. In addition to the Ivy League favorites’ strong three-point shooting, they also consistently drew fouls, making it to the line a total of 21 times and dispatching all but three in the end.
Princeton proved to be simply too good for the Quakers, who put in a good effort despite their loss. The game reflected shades of the same fixture last season, when Penn launched a massive comeback but fell short in the final few minutes. The biggest difference between the two matches, however, was that the Tigers pulled away in the end of this year's contest.
"We need to prove to ourselves that we're better than what we just did," coach Donahue said. "We need to compete better, we need to play better, we need to go out there and show that what we're building here is way better than what we showed."
Donahue's team will have that chance next weekend when it hosts Yale and Brown in the first full Ivy League weekend of the season. And if the Red and Blue play like they did in the second half against Princeton, the coach will likely be very happy with the results.