Penn’s Ivy title quest ends in Princeton

An empty Jadwin gym, two hours after Penn lost a heartbreaker to Princeton

PRINCETON, N.J. – What is there to say? For Penn basketball fans, Tuesday night marked a bitter end to a memorable season as the Quakers missed a golden opportunity to capture a share of the program’s first NCAA tournament since 2007. Even worse, hated rival Princeton was the team to deal Penn such a cruel fate.

In time, I will review this season, look ahead to the next one and try to put Zack Rosen’s incredible college career in perspective. For now, I will simply share what head coach Jerome Allen, Rosen and fellow senior Rob Belcore said after Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss to Princeton in the regular-season finale. For those Penn fans who want to torture themselves further, they can read my game story, one from the Daily News’ Dick Jerardi here, and a good column from the Inquirer’s Mike Jensen here.

I’ve seen a few people say Allen was too hard on his players since many believe this team overachieved. You can craft your own opinions based on the quotes below, but Allen has said similar stuff all season long, and in my opinion it’s helped turn the program around. Plus, he did praise the seniors for the work they put in to the program. Here’s the transcript:

JEROME ALLEN

I’m obviously disappointed. We set out to say we wanted to control our own destiny and everything we did to prepare was for winning the league. This is not the end we had in mind. We came up short.

I think [I was most disappointed with] the defense, to be honest with you. On days when the ball doesn’t go in the basket, you still have an opportunity to win. It’s how you defend. I just thought from start of game, they didn’t have anything to play for, other than to be the spoilers. How can a team that’s playing for nothing play harder than the team that’s supposedly playing for something? And that’s really what blew my mind. OK, the ball wasn’t going in. But offensively they just got whatever they wanted – backdoors, offensive rebounds, open jump shots, open layups. And I think that’s really where the problem lies.

I think when you put it together, we had about four or five consecutive stops, and I think that’s what enabled us to get back in the game. And shots for us went down. And then they came right back down and scored on two straight possessions and then again two straight possessions. That’s where the game was at – five, seven, eight. At this point of the season, whether you’re fatigued or not, you have 40 minutes of your life to have something you can share with your grandchildren. It can’t be a function of fatigue. It just came down to desire.

I’ll give their offense some credit. Those guys, Princeton, they stick with their system. It’s an unusual system to defend with misdirection, with backdoors. Having said that, it’s the same system they ran when we played them earlier in the season at the Palestra. So it’s not like they ran anything new. It was a direct function of our focus.

I don’t think I was confused. I’m not confused, baffled or surprised. It was just a direct function of who paid attention to details better over the course of 40 minutes.

I think these [seniors] bought in. And that allowed us to get 15 guys to listen. When the best players get it and give it every day in practice and they’re diving on the floor for loose balls and taking film home by themselves to study, that kind of allows me to do my job a lot easier. It gives a sense of normalcy for what the freshmen think is expected. This is what we do. It gave us that identity going forward. Hopefully next year’s class comes in and guys currently returning will do the same thing for those guys. I appreciate it, the fact they allowed us to teach as a staff. There are no moral victories by any means. This is the University of Pennsylvania and we’re about winning championships. We don’t prepare to come in second. We prepare to win. From that standpoint, not winning is a disappointment. We’re disappointed. But having said that, going forward we know areas we can improve, both mental and physical, to one day become champions because really that’s what it’s all about.

I don’t know [about the NIT, CBI or CIT]. That’s out of our control. I just think the biggest thing we tried to tell these guys is you always want to be in position where you can control your own destiny. We had that opportunity tonight. Whatever happens come Wednesday, Selection Sunday, who gets in, who doesn’t get in, we don’t know because we can’t control that. That’s unfortunate.

For one, Steve Bilsky did something I’m not sure too many athletic directors would have done and give a guy with three months experience the opportunity to run the program. Having said that, we stay connected to the process. This is a disappointing season for us. We didn’t win. From Dec. 14 to 2009 to March 6 of 2012, the only thing we wanted to instill in these guys is if we hold onto our principles for 40 minutes and defend, we will win more than we lose. Whether that was 11-3 or 6-8 we came up short. You’ve been to the Palestra a number of times and you know what that building is about and what this program is about. We’re top 10 in all-time wins in NCAA history. And to not get it done is disappointing. Whether we finished 11-3 or not, what does that do for us?

ZACK ROSEN

We didn’t play as hard as we could and we lost.

For us, the season is either you win it or you don’t. That’s what [the younger players] can take away from it I guess. You win or you don’t. Whether we’re close or not close, you either win or you don’t. They can take that.

Whether it has or hasn’t [sunk in], we lost. We blew our opportunity and that’s the bottom line. I don’t think there’s anything past that to say.

ROB BELCORE

Until tonight, we weren’t mathematically eliminated. I suppose after Princeton beat Harvard at Harvard, we knew we had a chance to run the table. And if we played our best basketball, we could beat anyone in the league. And we beat every team in the league this year. No one swept us. I never for a second thought we were out. With the guy sitting to my right [Rosen], he’s going to need a month off for how tired his back has got to be. As long as he was taking the floor with me, I legitimately believe there was no one – I thought he could carry us through the whole way. And he almost did. I think we let him down, the other 14 guys. Zack’s play was tremendous. He’s the best player in the Big 5 this year. He’s the best player in the Ivy League this year. As long as I was with him, I knew we had more than a punchers’ chance.

Ian Hummer is a really good player. He knocked down some threes. We all have to live with that. He had two big threes that hurt us in the first half. My M.O. is supposed to be the guy that locks people up, plays defense. I don’t even know how much he had but we lost. He had a good game. I should have done better. I don’t care what they run. I don’t care what any system is. What it comes down to is stopping the person in front of you and I didn’t do that.

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