After sharing the Ivy League title with Princeton in the 1981 men’s basketball season, coach Bob Weinhauer was rumored to be offered a coaching position at Georgia Tech, but he stayed with Penn for one more season.
“When you fully explore someone else’s program, you begin to notice that the things you have are pretty good,” Weinhauer said after he officially removed his name from consideration at Georgia Tech.
For the first time in 55 years of games at the Palestra, the squad would start off the season with newly replaced floors since its initial construction in 1927. Additionally, there would be breakaway rims on baskets, a brand-new heating system, and a permanent concession area to serve fried foods.
In their opening game, on Nov. 30, 1981, Penn showed up against Saint Francis. The Quakers outscored the Red Flash, 10-1, in the last couple minutes of the first half, and scored the first points in the second half taking a lead of 59-40. St. Francis managed to narrow the lead but Penn scored 18 of the next 22 points, leading them to a win with a score of 101-71. In this game, Paul Little, George Noon, and Michael Brown were the highest scoring players with 16 points, 23 points, and 15 points, respectively.
“It’s a good way to start,” Weinhauer said. “I thought the kids played reasonably hard. We didn’t always execute well, but that’s to be expected in the first game.”
After a three-game winning streak, the Quakers were hopeful and excited about their game against Villanova, a Big 5 rival. Weinhauer had never achieved a victory against the Wildcats during his tenure as head coach for the Quakers.
“I think our kids are playing well and with a lot of confidence,” Weinhauer said. “We've been playing with heart and with intelligence. We’ve also done a lot of constructive work in practice.”
But Penn had trouble keeping up with Villanova, and lost their game by a score of 75-61.
This was the start of a nine-game losing streak in the season that the Quakers worked tirelessly to break. During this streak, the squad also lost games to Louisville, Oregon State, Fordham, Marshall, Brown, Yale, Saint Joseph’s, and La Salle.
Ultimately, on Jan. 23, 1982, the Quakers finally broke the streak in a home game against Penn State, coached by former Penn coach Dick Harter. They won the game, 58-44, and finally some hope was restored. Little demonstrated his leadership, especially on the defensive end, by blocking two shots, and other players such as Noon, Brown, and Fran McCaffery also demonstrated their commitment to playing well.
“It’s been rough but they haven’t given up on themselves, they deserve all the credit,” Weinhauer said. “They’ve been working like that every day in practice. It’s about time — a win had to come.”
“I think we were finally able to maintain the level of consistency we’re going to need,” McCaffery agreed.
This was the start of another streak, but this time, they were on their way back from a 3-9 record to a newly-formed winning streak. Now, their goal was to win the Ivy League title once again.
Following losses to Brown and Yale earlier in the month, the Quakers searched for their first Ivy League win of the season in their game against Princeton. And they got it.
At the beginning of the second half, Penn was down by 8 points, and then 9, but then forward David Lardner stepped up big, and helped turn a 33-27 deficit to a 39-38 lead. Just like that, they managed to win by a narrow score of 43-40.
“We needed this one to get back even with Princeton," Weinhauer said. “We’ve accomplished the first step in getting back on top.”
Just like that, the Quakers were getting their groove back, and they went on to accomplish that 14-game winning streak and the League championship down to the last game against Columbia.
On Mar. 6, the Red and Blue faced a tight game against the Lions, but they came through with a narrow win by a score of 45-43.
“All the Ivy championships have been unique in their own way,” Weinhauer said. “And this one was a great team comeback effort."
“This one feels really good because we came back,” Noon said. "We just came together as a unit. It involved everybody taking a position and fulfilling it.”
Now it was time for the squad to take on their NCAA Tournament bid against Saint John’s. Unfortunately, this was the end of the season for the Quakers, as the Red Storm emerged victorious by a score of 66-56.
Regardless, the 1982 season went down in history, and the Quakers achieved a comeback like never before. The squad finished with a 17-10 record overall, and went 12-2 in Ancient Eight play. Additionally, Weinhauer earned his fourth Ivy championship in his five years as head coach, and Paul Little was named co-Ivy League Player of the Year along with Craig Robinson from Princeton.