By Harry Allison
The Penn Quakers are dancing into March Madness for the first time in 11 years!
Darnell Foreman scored 19 points, AJ Brodeur had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Penn squeaked a 68-65 win over Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament title game at the Palestra.
Ryan Betley added 17 points for the Quakers (24-8), who will be making their 24th appearance in the NCAAs.
“I wanted to be like Mike Jordan,” Foreman said of the star Penn guard who led the Quakers to Ivy titles in 1999 and 2000. “Especially being a guard, you look at the past history of guards. The Ibby Jaabers, the Jerome Allens, even going back to Booney Salters. You want to be those guys. You want to be on the wall. You want that history. Now this team has it. This team is going to be remembered as the team that stopped the drought.”
Senior Caleb Wood, a junior college transfer, drilled two straight 3-pointers, getting fouled on the second, to put Penn ahead 63-60 with 3:42 remaining. Betley followed with a 3-point play, before Harvard’s Christian Juzang pulled the Crimson to 66-63 with a 3-pointer with 47.6 seconds to go.
Harvard trimmed Penn’s lead to 66-65 on two Justin Bassey foul shots with 14.6 seconds left. But after Betley hit two free throws, Bassey and Juzang both missed potentially game-tying threes in the final seconds, and Penn fans rushed the court for a celebration a decade in the making.
“I didn’t think it was possible for us to get to the NCAA Tournament until that horn went off,” said third-year Penn coach Steve Donahue, who spearheaded the speedy turnaround after the Quakers sputtered through nine losing seasons in 10 years. “In a building I grew up in, and watching the kids storm the floor for our guys, (it was) magical. Unexpected, too.”
Chris Lewis led Harvard (18-13) with 16 points, while Bassey had 15 and Seth Towns, the league’s player of the year, finished with 13 before leaving the game with a knee injury with 8:20 remaining.
“Not having him on the floor certainly wasn’t easy, but we still had opportunities to push through,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “And I’m very proud of my kids for battling through without Seth.”
And after splitting their two regular-season meetings, both teams traded punches like heavyweight fighters in front of a packed crowd at the Palestra, Penn’s home gym.
Fueled by a 16-0 run in which Penn was held scoreless for seven minutes, Harvard led 30-17 with five minutes left in the first half. That’s when the Quakers turned things around, closing the first half on a 17-2 run capped by a Foreman 3-pointer right before the buzzer. Foreman, who sprinted right into the locker room as the Palestra crowd went wild, scored his 19 points all in the first half.
“That was huge for us,” Brodeur said. “He gave us the spark we needed. That’s just leadership.”
The Quakers continued to surge after the break, with sophomore standouts Brodeur and Betley combining to score the first 11 points of the first half to put Penn ahead 45-32 and complete a 28-2 run spanning halves.
But trailing by 10 midway through the second half, Harvard reeled off a 13-0 run to take a 58-55 lead, sparked by 3-point plays from Bassey and Juzang.
Afterward, both coaches expressed amazement at the runs each teams made.
“I just thought the game had an incredible back and forth,” Donahue said. “I had no idea we went on a 28-2 run — that’s crazy.”