His team down by a point, Penn forward Mark Zoller hung in the air, trying to square up for one last desperation shot last night.
He never had to take it.
Temple forward Dion Dacons got out beyond the three-point line to defend, their bodies collided, the whistle sounded, and Penn's leading scorer walked to the foul line.
"I've never been more nervous in my entire life," the senior said. "My knees were shaking."
His three free throws with 1.4 seconds left all went in cleanly. After a missed Temple halfcourt shot, pandemonium washed over the Palestra floor. Final score: Penn 76, Temple 74.
Final Four games have had fewer subplots, start-to-finish drama, and back-and-forth tension than what happened here, even before the lead changed hands three times in the last 23 seconds.
So what was Fran Dunphy's return to face his former Quakers players like? Dunphy's mother, Josephine, summed up the mood: "I'm going to have a heart attack."
That was even before the tip-off.
In those last 23 seconds, Quakers junior Brian Grandieri, who made big plays all night, stroked in two free throws to give Penn a 73-72 lead. At the other end, Temple star Dionte Christmas, exquisite all night, scored the last of his 34 points, a 15-foot jumper with 6.9 seconds remaining.
Penn had no time-outs left. But the Quakers had Ibrahim Jaaber getting the ball up the court quickly . . .
"Within a second or two," Penn coach Glen Miller pointed out.
That play had been talked about in the previous time-out, when Miller remembered saying, "Just jam it down their throats." Later, he explained what that meant from an X-and-O point of view, explaining everybody's role. "We're a fastbreak system," Miller said.
There were no debates in the postgame news conference about the last call.
"It looks like it was a foul," Dunphy said. "From where I sat, it probably was a foul."
"Mark did get fouled," Miller said.
Quakers fans will remember how their team rallied from a 19-point first-half deficit, getting within 41-33 at halftime, even after Christmas hit a three-point buzzer-beater off an inbounds play.
At times, Jaaber was steady, and at times spectacular, finishing with 21 points and seven assists, leading an attack that produced just nine turnovers. Zoller added 19 points and 10 rebounds. Grandieri had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Christmas, in foul trouble most of the way, got his 34 points on 11-of-15 shooting, including 5 of 7 three-pointers. All five threes came in the first half, when Christmas had 19 points in 12 minutes.
Mark Tyndale added 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and stumbled around like a fighter counted out in the last round when he fouled out in the last minute.
When Dunphy walked in the building 90 minutes before the tip-off, Miller was the first person he happened to run into when he got down to the court. They greeted each other with a smile, a few words and a laugh, as cameras clicked away, then followed Dunphy around the court.
"Yo, B," Dunphy said to Quakers junior Brian Grandieri, already out practicing three-pointers.
Grandieri smiled. "Coach."
The cameras clicked away.
"Get your picture with me," Dunphy joked.
"I would love it," Grandieri joked, and he offered a tip to former Quakers and now Owls assistant, David Duke. "We're coming out in a 1-3-1."
Don't think for a second that Dunphy was feeling mixed loyalties once the game began.
When Owls guard Dustin Salisbery missed a jumper outside, Dunphy told him, "You can go by these guys every time. Don't settle." When a Temple player was called for a foul on Zoller, Dunphy informed an official, "He walks every . . . time."
His greeting included a pregame standing ovation. Dunphy said: "I didn't see any of the rollouts, but I'm sure they were interesting." They started out in homage, but got progressively more humorous (and mean-spirited).
Zoller can give his old coach a hard time about that down the road when he sees him, but his free throws told the final story.
Later, Dunphy mentioned: "It was one hell of a contest."
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen
at 215-854-4489 or email@example.com