PRINCETON, N.J. - Here’s a transcript of Penn’s postgame press conference after the Quakers’ 62-52 loss to Princeton at Jadwin Gym. It includes quotes from coach Jerome Allen, guard Zack Rosen and forward Rob Belcore.
I’ve also transcribed some highlights of Princeton’s postgame press conference, with quotes from coach Mitch Henderson, guard Douglas Davis and forward Patrick Saunders.
Before that, though, a few brief editorial comments.
First, a concluding thought about this year’s Penn team. This was my 10th season covering Penn basketball. Four of them ended in Ivy League championships. None of them featured a Quakers team that put as much effort and heart into every game as this one.
I realize that much of how we judge college basketball teams derives from statistics. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there still ought to be room for intangibles, and this Penn team showed why.
Second, I really, really hope that the Ivy League never adopts a conference tournament. I have written before about my belief that it’s good for mid-major conferences to send their best teams to the NCAA Tournament, and about how not having a conference tournament guarantees that.
You can agree or disagree with that philosophy as you want. But I really think that the last few weeks have shown that a regular-season title race produces a special kind of drama, one that cannot be matched by a knockout competition for an equivalent reward.
Now, on to the participants in Tuesday night’s affair.
I’m obviously disappointed. In September, we set out to say that we wanted to say we would control our own destiny. And everything we did to prepare was connected to winning the league. We always began with the end in mind, and came up short.
On whether Penn’s offense (38.6% FG) or defense (58.3% FG allowed) was more disappointing:
I think the defense, to be honest with you, because on days when the ball doesn’t go in the basket, what’s going to still allow you have an opportunity to win is how you defend.
We said that all season long, and I just thought that from the start of the game, they didn’t have anything to play for other than just to be the spoilers. How can a team that’s playing for nothing play harder than a team that’s playing for something? That’s really what blew my mind.
Okay, the ball wasn’t going in. But they just got whatever they wanted - backdoors, offensive rebounds, open jump shots, layups. I think that’s really where the problem lies.
On whether, when Penn cut Princeton’s lead to 34-31 with 12:23 to go in the game, he thought his team could get the win:
Yeah. I think we put together about four or five consecutive stops, and I think that’s what enabled us to get back in the game. And a couple of shots for us went down. Then they came back out and scored on two straight possessions, and then scored again two straight possessions.
That’s kind of where the game was at: five, seven, eight [points]. That was it. At this point in the season, whether you’re fatigued or not, you have 40 minutes of your life to have something that you can share with your grandchildren. So it can’t be a function of fatigue. It just came down to desire.
On whether his team played defensively tight, in addition to playing offensively tight:
I’ll give this [Princeton] offense some credit. Those guys, they stick with their system. It’s an unusual system to defend, with misdirections and backdoors.
But having said that, it’s the same system that they ran when we played them early in the season at the Palestra. So it’s not like they ran anything new, or added any wrinkles. I just think it’s a direct function of focus, and locking in, and paying attention to details on the defensive end.
I don’t think I’m confused. I’m not confused, baffled, or surprised. It’s just a direct function of who plays better over the course of 40 minutes.
On his senior class, and how much they have grown as players, and how much he has grown with them as a coach:
I think these guys bought in, and that allowed us to get 15 guys to listen and pay attention. When your best players get it, and they’re giving it every day in practice, and diving for loose balls, and taking film home by themselves to study and stuff, that allows me to do my job a lot easier.
Because you have a sense of normalcy, especially for the freshmen. They get what’s expected, that this is what we do to prepare. They [the seniors] gave us that identity going forward, and hopefully [when] next year’s class comes in, those guys who will be returning will do the same thing.
I appreciate the fact that they allowed us to teach as a staff. There’s no moral victories in this, 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.
So from that standpoint, we’re disappointed. But having said that, going forward, we know the areas where we need to improve, both mental and physical, in order to become champions. That’s what it’s all about.
On whether he thinks this was the final game of the season, or whether there might be an opportunity to play in the NIT or another postseason tournament:
I don’t know. That’s out of our control. The biggest thing I tried to tell these guys is that you always want to be in a position where you can control your own destiny. And we had that opportunity tonight.
So whatever happens come Wednesday, or come Selection Sunday, with who does or doesn’t get in, we don’t know because we can’t control it. That’s unfortunate.
On how quickly Penn has come back to prominence in the Ivy League, given that the Quakers have gone from 5-9 in conference play in his first season as head coach (2010) to 7-7 in his second season (2011) to 11-3 this year - and whether he thought it would happen:
For one, I think Steve Bilsky did something that I’m not sure too many athletic directors would have done - give a guy with three months’ experience an opportunity to run a program.
But having said that, we stay connected to the process, and this is a disappointing season for us. We did not win it.
From December 14 of 2009 to March 6 of 2012, the only thing we wanted to instill in these guys was that if we hold on to our principles for 40 minutes and defend, we will win more than we lose. Whether that was 11-3 or 6-8, it came up short.
If you’ve been in the Palestra, you know what that building is about, and what this program is about. [It’s in the] top 10 in all-time wins in NCAA history. To not get it done is disappointing. So whether we finished 11-3 or not, what does that do for us?
On trying to explain the nature of the defeat:
We didn’t play as hard as we could, and we lost.
On what he would say to underclassmen such as Miles Cartwright, Steve Rennard and Marin Kukoc, in order to give them motivation for next season:
For us, the season is either you win it or you don’t. So that’s what they can take away from it, I guess. You win or you don’t. Whether you’re close or not close, you either win or you don’t. I guess they can take that from it, and really feel that.
On what he can take from tonight, and the return to prominence of Penn basketball over the course of his career:
The same thing. We win or we don’t.
On whether it has fully sunk in yet that his career may be over, depending on whether Penn plays in a postseason tournament:
Whether it has or it hasn’t, we lost. We blew our opportunity, and that’s the bottom line. I don’t think there’s anything past that to say.
On whether, after Penn’s loss at home to Harvard, he thought his team would get to within one win of an Ivy League championship:
Until tonight, we weren’t mathematically eliminated. After Princeton beat Harvard, we knew we had a chance to run the table, and that if we played our best basketball we could beat anyone in the league.
We beat every team in the league this year. No one swept us. So I never for a second thought we were out.
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 believed he could carry us the whole way. He almost did. I think we let him down, the other 14 or 15 guys.
Zack’s play was tremendous. He was the best player in the Big 5 this year, the best player in the Ivy League this year. As long as I was with him, I knew we had more than a puncher’s chance.
On defending the depth of Princeton’s front court after shutting down Yale’s Greg Mangano on Saturday:
Ian Hummer is a really good player. He knocked down some threes, and the scouting report said we ought to live with that. There were two big threes that hurt us in the first half.
My M.O. is supposed to be of a guy who locks people up on defense. I don’t even know how many he scored,* but it was too much. We lost Ian and he had a good game.
[At that point, Jerome Allen looked across the table and cut off Belcore mid-sentence to say: "Zack, pick your head up." Belcore then resumed speaking.]
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 that’s in front of you, and I didn’t do that.
On his view of the Penn-Princeton rivalry, having been involved with it as a player and a coach, and also in the context of the recent success of Cornell and Harvard:
I think that when Penn os good, it’s good for us. It’s good for all of us. But beating your travel partner rival, it’s always meant a lot to me, and I think it means a lot to these guys too. I think I’ll just leave it at that.
It’s a special game, and I always thought this was a very special rivalry, and I still think it is. I’m glad to see that, and I hope it continues.
On having to deal with the end of the season instead of preparing to play in a conference tournament:
It’s unique, and we talked about it on our first road trip up to Cornell. I said we were starting a 14-game tournament, one game at a time. We slipped, and these guys know. Last year, they were in the mix all the way until the end.
We had our chances, and it’s heartbreaking because look at what we’re doing right now. It’s fun. These guys are really enjoying playing with each other - they’re making each other better. It would be fun to keep playing. But we know the drill. We’re hopeful to keep playing.
On whether he would prefer to have a conference tournament:
This year? I’d love to have a conference tournament.
On whether he agreed with Jerome Allen’s statement that Princeton “had nothing to play for”:
Not at all. Every time you step on the floor, you’re trying to win. We don’t know what our future holds, so we’re just going to play. I definitely feel like we have something to play for. We don’t know what it is, but we definitely feel like we do [have something to play for].
On playing against Zack Rosen for the final time:
It’s been fun. Zack is a really good player. It’s competition. [There was] freshman year,* and I played against him once in high school. So we’re kind of familiar with each other. He’s playing in my city, Philly, and I play against him sometimes in the summer.
It’s just fun. A player likes to compete, and that’s what it is.
* - In particular, the game at Jadwin Gym, which went to overtime and was won by Penn on a late Rosen three-pointer.
On whether he has had any empathy for Harvard since last season’s dramatic win over the Crimson in the NCAA Tournament bid playoff game, and on having now done Harvard a favor by beating Penn to give the Crimson the Ivy League championship:
[Upon hearing this question, Patrick Saunders quite demonstratively shook his head to indicate that he had none.]
We had Penn. We couldn’t control what happened after that. In my mind - I can’t speak for [his teammates], but I didn’t feel comfortable letting Penn win a share of the Ivy League title on our home court.
As coach said, this is a rivalry, and our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard is good, but our rivalry is with Penn. So yeah - Harvard won the Ivy League, but Penn wasn’t going to win it on our court.
On his role in helping to restore Princeton to prominence in the Ivy League:
It just took a lot of hard work. We had upperclassmen who helped us change our mentality. Coming in, we wanted to win - we all came from schools that won in high school. So we wanted to have that translate at the college level.
I feel that our upperclassmen, they really helped mold us into good college players. And our coaches - we were fortunate to turn this thing around. It wasn’t just this class, it was the guys before us and the guys under us as well.
On giving Harvard the outright Ivy League championship by beating Penn:
I don’t think we have much love for either team. It’s definitely tough to get a win, but I won’t lie - it’s tough to swallow knowing that our win puts Harvard in the NCAA Tournament. They’re a good team, but I think they might say that they would feel the same way if they did the same for us.
On having beaten Harvard and Penn at home this season, and on returning Jadwin Gym to its former status as a difficult place for opponents to win:
I don’t think it’s any one specific thing. When we were freshmen, we had good upperclassmen to look up to, guys like Marcus Schroder and Zach Finley. I think it started there..They taught us how to play really hard and give everything you’ve got in practice andevery game.
I think it was just a continual thing of breeding a culture of hard work.