1995 was yet another impressive year for Penn men's basketball, as the team clinched its third consecutive Ivy League title and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in program history.
The Quakers went 22-6 overall, including an unblemished 14-0 conference record, putting themselves on the radar for yet another March Madness appearance.
Starting the season off 8-1, the Red and Blue made it known that they meant business. With senior guards Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen averaging nearly 15 points per game, as well as senior Shawn Trice contributing with his typical seven rebounds per game, the Quakers hardly allowed any of their opponents to put up a fight.
One of the rare exceptions to this was the tenth game of the Quakers’ season against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which The Daily Pennsylvanian dubbed the “UMassacre.” Penn's head coach at the time, Fran Dunphy, credited the lopsided 93-60 loss for the Red and Blue to the Minutemen’s star player, Lou Roe, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the game.
“He’s a first-round draft choice and I think he proved that this evening,” Dunphy said. “He’s strong, he’s athletic, he’s very intelligent playing the game, he’s relentless as a rebounder. There were a number of chances we had to keep him off the boards and we didn’t do so.”
The Quakers bounced back from this uncharacteristic loss and managed to go 7-1 against several Ivy League opponents, La Salle, and Lafayette, only losing to Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s. Penn's team also became the eighth team in the history of college basketball to reach 1,400 all-time wins after knocking off Yale and Brown in early February.
Their Feb. 14 game against hometown rival Temple, known as the “Heartbreak on Valentine’s Day,” was one of the few devastating losses for the Red and Blue. Temple standout player, Derrick Battle, locked in a layup with 12.4 seconds to go to give his team the lead. Broken-hearted, Penn left the Palestra with a 59-56 defeat to the Owls added to their losses column.
“They perhaps went into splitting and spreading against our zone better than anybody we faced, probably better than anybody we will face,” Temple head coach John Chaney said of the Quakers. “Most teams, stand, look around, pass around, run one cut and then try to get a play. These kids are already fixed in position when they come up the floor, so they’re already here.”
One cannot talk about this Penn team without highlighting its seniors, two of which when on to play in the NBA. The five of them, Matt Maloney, Jerome Allen, Eric Moore, Scott Kegler and Shawn Trice, started all 28 games, with an overall record of 40-6 over their four years in the Palestra.
“They are a special, special group and I will miss them in every way — not only basketball, but off the court as well,” Dunphy said of the five leaders after their senior night win. “We’ve got a lot of unfinished business here still. I don’t allow myself to think about what it’s going to be like without these guys, because hopefully we’ve still got a lot more games with them.”
In their regular season finale, the Red and Blue pummeled Princeton in a 69-57 victory, capturing their third consecutive undefeated Ivy League season. The team also extended their League winning streak to 43 games, which ranks first all-time in the Ivy League. Senior forward Shawn Trice pioneered the Quaker win in his last Ancient Eight battle, recording a career-high 26 points, shooting 10-of-12 from the field.
“We always stress establishing an inside game and then trying to work outside,” Trice said. “I got a couple of my shots to fall early, and then my teammates just kept giving me the ball.”
Going into the NCAA Tournament seeded 12th in the East, the Quakers were scheduled to face No. 5 seed Alabama. Both the Crimson Tide and the Red and Blue made it to the second round of the previous year’s tournament. They mutually had impressive regular season records going into this year’s highly anticipated contest.
“We’re going to have to play an excellent basketball game in order to win,” Dunphy said. “Hopefully we’ll get our share of good looks at the basket, but you see these kinds of percentages that they hold their opponents to. We’re going to have to really pay attention.”
Alabama's gifted defense was going to present challenges for the Quakers, as they led the SEC with 6.1 blocks per game and held opponents to 37.4% shooting from the field.
The matchup was back-and-forth all night, with the Crimson Tide pulling ahead 57-46 with just under ten minutes remaining. A Quaker timeout gave the Red and Blue what they needed to tie it up at 57 points, rattling off 11 straight points. The last two minutes were neck-and-neck, with the Quaker's junior forward, Ira Bowman, knocking down two free throws to eventually tie it up at 67 and send the competition into overtime.
With the Crimson Tide scoring the first 11 points of overtime, the Quakers had to start fouling. Allen, who was determined to not let this be his last game in the Red and Blue, nailed a three-pointer with only 23 seconds left to make the score 88-82. Deciding that wasn’t enough, he stole a pass five seconds later and knocked down another three, bringing his team within three points.
Despite Allen's admirable effort and the rest of the Red and Blue, their luck ran out as Bryan Passink iced the 91-85 overtime victory for Alabama by knocking down a pair of free throws.
While the Crimson Tide’s defense held up its end, Alabama’s sophomore guard, Antonio McDyess, also provided a career performance. Setting a scoring record for any Alabama player in an NCAA Tournament game with 39 points, as well as gathering 19 rebounds, McDyess absolutely dominated that night.
After the game concluded, Crimson Tide head coach David Hobbs walked up to senior Jerome Allen to let him know the amount of respect he had for the player’s dedication throughout this game and every game he played as a Quaker.
“You’re just a heck of a player and I have a lot of respect for you,” Hobbs said to Allen. “You guys gave it everything you had. You came up a little short. Look at the good things you’ve done over the last three years, not what happened tonight.”
In his postgame presser, though disappointed in the result of the game, coach Dunphy also reflected on the sadness he felt in losing his senior class.
“It’s a wonderful group of people who gave great effort throughout their careers,” Dunphy said. “What a fantastic experience to be around these kids. I feel very fortunate to have had that pleasure.”
Even though the Red and Blue’s record-breaking season did not end how the Quakers had hoped, it is clear that the 1995 Penn men’s basketball team, led by an all-time senior squad, was one to remember.