Coming off their third consecutive Ivy League championship, Penn men's basketball entered the year with a 43-game winning streak in the Ivy League dating back to March 7, 1992. After losing stars Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney to the NBA, however, there were big questions about how the Red and Blue would hold up.
Put into the spotlight on national television, Penn played its season opener against USC at the Palestra. Led by senior captains guard Ira Bowman and center Tim Krug, the Quakers came surprisingly close, only to lose 80-78 in the game's final seconds. Penn fell to St. Louis later that week, 58-51. They were keeping the games competitive, but not finding a way to close, and their lack of experience was costing them late in games.
“We haven’t put it all together yet,” Bowman said. “In the first game, we played pretty good offense and terrible defense. In the second game, we played pretty good defense and missed all our open shots on offense.”
Penn was able to do exactly that with a 67-61 win over Towson. Unfortunately, the Quakers could not ride out its success, losing three straight to Penn State, Detroit Mercy, and SMU to end the year.
The previous six games were behind them as Penn turned its focus to Ivy League play in the new year. The Quakers visited Princeton, their biggest rivals, for their first conference matchup of the season.
After a great performance by guard Donald Moxley, scoring a career-high 19 points, and general dominance from the Quakers throughout the game, they held off a last-second comeback on their way to win, 57-55.
“The game was decided when that guy Moxley got out of the bag”, Princeton coach Pete Carril said.
Penn’s play continued to improve as they had solid wins against Brown, Yale, Cornell, and Columbia. “The streak” was holding strong at 48 Ivy League wins in a row.
Particularly notable up to that point in the season had been freshman forward Paul Romanczuk and Senior forward Cedric Laster. They were critical in filling gaps in a roster that had lost guard Jamie Lyren to a broken foot, center Bill Guthrie and forward Vigor Kapetanovich due to academic struggles, and most recently center Nat Graham.
“We specifically told our kids there’s nobody else who’s going to hurt us besides Bowman, Krug, and Moxley,” Cornell coach Al Walker said. “They really stepped up big.”
Starting to get in their groove, the Quakers were confident against Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H. After a generally strong game, they were up 50-43 in the second half before Dartmouth went on a 7-0 run to equalize it with 3:09 on the clock.
A Donald Moxley layup with 17 seconds left put Penn up 53-52, but a foul committed by Tim Krug sent the Big Green to the line and they made both free throws. Down 54-53, Ira Bowman darted to the other side of the court attempting a last-second layup but was fouled with eight seconds remaining. Bowman’s first one-and-one free throw bounced off the rim. Despite the controversy over foul calls in the final seconds, the streak was over.
Penn had no time to wallow over their loss, however, as they were thrown right back into the fire against Harvard the following day. They clapped back with a commanding 77-63 win on the backs of leaders like Krug.
"The streak is done. There’s nothing you can do about it now," Krug said. “We have the rest of the season. We have to put a new streak together.”
The Ivy League championship would come down to the Quakers’ (11-2) final regular-season game against Princeton (12-1). The Tigers were quickly sent home after a commanding 63-49 Quaker win with fans cheering them at the Palestra.
The two teams would now face off once again to decide who would advance to the NCAA tournament.
“The way we view it, we didn't really win the title,” Krug said. "Whoever wins this game is going to have the best claim to being the Ivy champion."
In the previous two matchups, the Quakers proved they could outlast Princeton’s strong defense. Unfortunately, Penn’s measly 2-for-18 from the field in the first half did not get them off to a good start.
Then, the senior leadership of Krug and Bowman kept the Quakers alive and a Bowman three-pointer with 15 seconds left sent the game into overtime. After exerting so much energy for their comeback, Penn couldn’t put their shots together in the second half and fell to Princeton 63-56. The Quakers, unfortunately, would not get the bid to the NCAA Tournament that year.
What may be considered a loss in the perspective of center Tim Krug was in fact a major accomplishment for the Red and Blue.
Despite others' low expectations and the loss of key players, they still walked away with the Ivy League Championship for the fourth year in a row. They played with great heart and showed that Penn’s basketball dynasty wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
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