Here is the second installment of Penn Gazette Sports’ Top 10 Basketball Moments of the Decade, counting down from No. 5 with a little more help from former guard Andrew Toole.
5) Penn beats Temple in Fran Dunphy’s return, Jan. 24, 2007: The stage was set for an emotional Big 5 game when longtime Quakers coach Fran Dunphy returned to the Palestra with his new Temple squad. It was only fitting, then, that the two city rivals staged a game for the ages. Rallying back from a 19-point deficit and overcoming a lights-out performance from Owls guard Dionte Christmas, the Quakers pulled out a dramatic 76-74 win when Penn star Mark Zoller was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.4 seconds left and buried all three free throws. “The fans were great, it was a great atmosphere, and I’m a privileged guy to be coaching college sports,” said the classy Dunphy after the Penn fans rushed the court to celebrate the Quakers’ first win over Temple since 2002.
4) Penn sweeps Ivy League; Ugonna scores 30 in swan song, March 21, 2003: The senior-laden 2002-03 Quakers went into the NCAA tournament with a perfect conference record and a staggering 38-point thrashing of USC on its resume. But despite a brilliant 30-point performance from senior Ugonna Onyekwe, the 11th-seeded Quakers fell apart in the final two minutes against Oklahoma State, dropping their second straight NCAA game. The result was bitterly disappointing for Penn’s deep senior class, who came to Boston fully expecting to bring the university its first NCAA win since 1994. Still, it was a fitting swan song for Onyekwe, who wrapped a pretty ribbon around an exceptional college career.
Toole’s Take: Ugonna was incredible all day and I think we really had a chance to win the game. Obviously Tim Begley getting hurt didn’t help our cause, but we just didn’t come up with enough plays down the stretch. I still wake up in a cold sweat some nights thinking about that game. If we could have won the game we would have played Syracuse next (that was the year they won the national championship). We would have loved to play against that zone – you know we would have put up enough 3’s to give ourselves a chance.
3) Terrific trio leads Penn to third straight Ivy title, March 2, 2007: Every championship-clinching win is special, but when the 2006-07 Quakers wrapped up the Ivy League title with a 86-58 thrashing of Yale at the Palestra in early March, it truly showed the dominance of three seniors: Ibrahim Jaaber, Mark Zoller and Steve Danley. For the first time since Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney were seniors in 1995, the Quakers had reached the Ivy League pinnacle three straight seasons – and it was their terrific core of seniors that led the way. If not for a brutally tough draw against Texas A&M, this group could have also been the one to finally end the NCAA drought.
2) Penn survives three-way tie, March 9, 2002: The Ivy League, of course, is known for not having a conference tournament. But in 2002-03, a mini-tournament was needed when Penn, Princeton and upstart Yale all tied for first place after 14 regular-season games. After Yale topped Princeton at the Palestra in a game in which Penn fans didn’t know who to root for, the Quakers took on the Elis at Lafayette with the Ivy’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament at stake. The atmosphere at the neutral site was remarkable and so were the Quakers, who hammered a very good Yale team, 77-58. I still vividly remember then sophomore Jeff Schiffner crumpling to the ground after getting elbowed in the eye, having his head bandaged and then pumping his fist to the Penn fans, which never stopped cheering all night.
Toole’s Take: The three-way tie and the championship game were clearly unique because of the rarity of a tie. I remember we had such a great non-conference season, and then lost to Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. We were 2-3 to start the Ivy season, but we won our next nine games and by the time we got to the championship I think we were ready. I don’t think that Yale team was ready for the intensity of that game. Ugonna and Koko dominated the game from the tip and that was basically it. I remember how great the fan support was at Lafayette – and once we took the big lead early, we knew there was nothing Yale could do to beat us.
1) Black Tuesday reversed, Feb. 8, 2005: This wasn’t just a Penn-Princeton game; it was a life experience. Anyone that was in the Palestra on Feb. 8, 2005 will always remember the Quakers’ incredible 18-point comeback in the final seven-and-half-minutes over its hated rival – sweet revenge for Princeton’s 27-point “Black Tuesday” comeback over Penn in ’99. I was lucky enough to be in the crowd for this game, and I still remember so many moments – from Eric Osmundson’s four-point play to Jan Fikiel’s huge 3-pointers to Princeton coach Joe Scott’s terrified face to Tim Begley’s banked three in overtime that sealed the 70-62 win. But most of all, I remember Begley, Penn’s senior leader, ripping the ball away from Judson Wallace, Princeton’s senior leader, and driving in for an uncontested layup in the waning minutes of regulation. At any other gym, it might have been a coincidence that each team’s best player was involved in the game’s defining play. At the Palestra? It almost seemed predestined – a magical moment in a magical game in a magical gym.
Watch that video and tell me it wasn’t a great decade for Penn basketball. Merry Christmas, everyone.