At the heart of every March Madness Cinderella story is a star player. It was Steph Curry that led a No. 10 seed Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. It was Gordon Hayward that led a No. 8 seed Butler Bulldogs all the way to the National Championship in 2011. And for Penn, it was Tony Price that led a No. 9 seed Quakers to the program’s only Final Four in 1979.
Arguably the best campaign in Penn history, the Red and Blue finished the 1978-79 regular season with a 13-1 Ivy record and a 21-5 mark overall, entering the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament as Ivy League and Philadelphia Big 5 champions.
And leading the way for this historic Quakers team was junior Tony Price.
Coming to Penn as a high school All-American, the standout guard from Taft High School in South Bronx showed flashes of what was to come throughout his three years with the Quakers, including a 27 point game against Furman, 23 rebound game against Cornell, and not to mention a pair of game-winning free throws against in the final seconds against Princeton.
Entering March Madness at the end of his junior season, Price was the reigning Ivy League and Big 5 Player of Year, and was averaging 19.8 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game. Price’s 633 total points during the 1978-79 season remains second on Penn’s single-season list.
“We had great chemistry, won the Ivy League title and the Big Five championship and then made our run to the Final Four," Price said. "We worked together as a team. Without that teamwork, none of our accomplishments that season would have been possible."
The Quakers entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 9 seed in the East Region, set to play the No. 8 seed Iona in the opening round. Against Jim Valvano’s Gaels, Price put up a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds in a 73-69 victory.
In the next round, the Quakers were up against legendary coach Dean Smith and the No. 1 seed North Carolina. Despite missing six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Price scored 25 points and recorded nine rebounds in the Quakers’ upset win against the Tar Heels.
One week later, the Red and Blue faced off against Syracuse, coached by Jim Boeheim. Penn's coach, Bob Weinhauer, called the Quakers’ first half against the Orangemen perhaps the best of the season — the halftime buzzer sounded with Penn leading by a score of 50-37. Paced by Price’s 20 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the 87-46 win against the Orangemen, Penn’s Cinderella story continued.
In the Eastern Regional Final against St. John’s, Price scored 21 points, going a perfect six-for-six in field goals in the second half, to lead the Quakers' comeback victory, which they won by a margin of 64-62.
Penn's run would eventually end in their game against a Magic Johnson-led Michigan State, a game where Price would score 18 points. And in the third-place game against DePaul, Price put up 31 points, in addition to 14 rebounds.
Price finished as the leading scorer of the 1979 NCAA Tournament with 142 points (23.7 ppg) and would be named the Eastern Regional Tournament MVP.
"It was very rewarding," Price said. "I had a very good senior year, scored a lot of points, we won a lot of games. It was unbelievable as an Ivy League school to do that. It might not ever happen again.”
And it hasn’t happened since Price and Quakers in 1979.