As if a need-to-win battle with Princeton wasn’t enough to bring Penn Quakers faithful inside the Palestra, the Quakers celebrated the 40th anniversary of their 1979 team Saturday afternoon, bringing back the last Ivy League team to make the Final Four — the last Big 5 team other than Villanova to make the Final Four.
Tony Price and Tim Smith and Bobby Willis and the rest of the ‘79 Quakers and their coach, Bob Weinhauer, came out at halftime, receiving rings made for the occasion. A big occasion, celebrating an accomplishment that seems more and more improbable as the decades go on.
That was it, by the way, for Penn highlights.
The present-dayers came out wearing throwback ‘79 jerseys, gave their typical top-notch defensive effort, but shot so miserably that Princeton’s 2-for-19 shooting to start the game didn’t keep the Tigers from winning, 62-53.
Penn now has lost four straight. More important, two straight in the Ivies, both to their archrivals. A place in the four-team Ivy tournament now will require real work starting with four Ivy road games coming up, after Big 5 battles with Temple and St. Joseph’s.
“When they had to execute, they executed, and we did not,’’’ said Penn coach Steve Donahue after an early 20-10 lead was gone by halftime, after his team fell to 10-6 overall, the hot start to this season, including a victory over Villanova, now a memory of a different time. “From our standpoint, I thought we really guarded them. How many wide open looks did either team really have?”
Penn seemingly had more in-and-outs than ins, the Quakers shooting 32.8 percent overall, and just 29 percent in the second half. AJ Brodeur led Penn with 16 points, but it was on 6-of-17 shooting.
“I think we settled,’’ Donahue said. “Late in the clock, we put AJ in some tough spots to make some hard shots. I think that’s settling.”
At the other end, Princeton big man Richmond Arirguzoh dominated, needing only 10 shots to get his 17 points, his second straight big effort against the Quakers. This time, Princeton guard Devin Cannady led all scorers with 20, getting half on perfect free-throw shooting.
Asked about winning either Penn game without Arirguzoh, Cannady said, “There’s no way. He was amazing.”
At the other end, Penn was 7-for-13 from the line, giving away points.
“It’s really demoralizing to not go to the line and get those two points,’’ Donahue said later, explaining that it is worked on and talked about.
“Believe me, we do a lot of stuff," Donahue said. “We know what the elephant is in the room.”
Both schools had agreed that playing two games against each other to start the season was better than wedging one of the games into a midseason spot that would have required five games in eight days for both schools. They also didn’t want to play during the week before the Ivy season. This was the solution they landed on.
That said, these two programs know each other so well, there’s no comfort in the idea of playing these games.
“It’s a weird week, it’s a hard week,’’ Donahue said.
“It’s a long two weeks,’’ said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson.
It’ll be a longer rest of the month for Penn before the Quakers get back to Ivy League play on Feb. 1 at Cornell.