Fans all around the league were joking and laughing as Penn had stumbled in the most humiliating manner. The “worst” team in the league was spanking the Quakers on its home floor. The Palestra was silent.
Princeton 53, Penn 35. 7:35 to go.
There was a small group of Ivy aficionados who remained uneasy. They remembered what CN8 would later remind all those who tuned in: Feb. 9, 1999 at The Palestra. The Quakers led the Tigers 40-13 only to lose 50-49. A 37-9 run closed out quite possibly the wildest game in Ivy history.
Here, Penn guard Tim Begley drew a foul on the Quakers’ next possession and got to the free-throw line. An unexciting 1-of-2 trip hardly hinted of any pulse Penn might have had left. But Penn guard Eric Osmundson snatched the rebound off a missed three-pointer by his teammate Ibrahim Jabber, hit the layup, and drew a foul. After a quick Princeton turnover, Osmundson was at it again, nailing a three-pointer while getting body-checked by Tigers forward Andre Logan.
The Palestra came back alive. The rest of the league shifted a bit in its seats.
A minor setback, that was all.
Princeton 53, Penn 43. 6:38 remaining.
Tigers center Judson Wallace—who carried his team on his ailing back all night—drew a foul from Jaaber. Wallace nailed both. Out of view of the CN8 cameras, a large plastic lid was then placed on the hoop.
Penn center Jan Fikiel hit a layup. On the subsequent possession, the first shoe dropped. Wallace picked up his fourth foul.
Forward Steve Danley went 1-of-2 from the line, and Fikiel nailed a big three from the corner.
The Palestra was going nuts. The rest of the league cringed.
Princeton 55, Penn 49. 4:20 left.
The Tigers moved the ball down the floor at a deliberate pace. They worked the ball around for 34 seconds. Finally, Princeton center Mike Stephens missed a three. On their next possession, the Tigers bled the shot clock dry before guard Scott Greenman launched a trifecta. Nothing.
Logan grabbed the offensive board. 30 more seconds later, Stephens fired up a jumper. Clank.
Danley furthered Penn’s cause by sinking a free throw and converting a layup on the subsequent possession.
The Palestra was coming through crisp, loud, and clear on the TV broadcast. The only bliss around the league resided among those who had made the wise choice of turning off the blowout five minutes prior.
Princeton 55, Penn 52. 2:04 to play.
Then, the second shoe dropped.
As Wallace began to pivot at the top of the key with his back to the basket, Begley snuck up behind him and knocked the ball out of his hands. The Penn guard rushed down the other end of the floor. Layup. Book it.
Just 30 seconds later, Wallace took the ball at the left corner of the key, spun baseline, and was tagged with a charging call. That was number five. Hercules was dead.
The Palestra shook upon its very foundation. The rest of the league could not be reached for comment.
Princeton 55, Penn 54. 1:03 from madness.
But the saga hadn’t ended quite yet. Danley missed a jumper that would have put the Quakers ahead for the first time in the game. The Tigers got a stop. Logan went to the line. The CN8 announcers made sure to remind the viewers once again that Princeton was among the top 10 best free-throw shooting teams in the county. Unfazed and unjinxed, Logan nailed the first. The second, however, met with a much less auspicious fate.
Penn rushed down the floor. Osmundson took the ball to the hole and crashed into Stephens, who had to have been as close to set as one can possibly get. Blocking foul. Two shots. Osmundson hit both, of course.
As the Tigers scrambled around on offense, the outcome became clear. Princeton, a team built on cold, precise offensive execution, was flustered and confused. The most crucial possession of the season for a team composed of NCAA tournament-tested veterans ended in a recreational league turnover.
Princeton 56, Penn 56. End of regulation.
The next five minutes were inconsequential. Sure, the Tigers kept it interesting to start the extra frame, but the outcome was no longer in doubt. For 40 minutes it had been Princeton’s game to lose, and it had done an admirable job in doing so.
Now, it was Penn’s game and Penn’s league to win. The Tigers knew it, the fans at The Palestra felt it, and the rest of the league became resigned to it.
Penn 70, Princeton 62. End of season.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.