WICHITA, Kan. — Penn coach Steve Donahue sat in a chair, Quakers assistants standing across a narrow hallway, as narrow as the path the Penn Quakers had to a historic upset here. The Jayhawk walked by, the mascot, then two Kansas cheerleaders. A steady stream of foot traffic between Donahue and his assistants. Penn’s coach seemed to notice none of it as he stared at a box score, throwing out observations.
Sure, Kansas point guard Devonte’ Graham was a handful all Thursday afternoon — this guy isn’t making first-team all-American teams by calling in favors — but Donahue noticed the 24 shots the Kansas point guard had taken to get to 29 points in the NCAA Midwest Regional first round. Donahue said his Quakers had done exactly what he’d wanted them to do at the defensive end.
It added up to Kansas 76, Penn 60, history averted. A No. 16 seed will have to beat a No. 1 some other day.
Regrets, Penn’s coach must have had a few. You can’t look at a sheet that says one team made 15 of 17 free throws and the other team made 5 of 14 and think that didn’t mean anything. It may have meant everything. The scenario where a No. 1 seed loses to a No. 16 seed simply doesn’t include the top seed making 88.2 percent of its free throws and the 16th seed making 35.7 percent.
“It’s more than just the points,’’ Donahue said later. “Your morale kind of gets a hit. Your defense may sulk a little bit.”
Nobody had been confused when Penn had taken a 10-point lead early.
“Can the game be over?’’ said a Quakers staffer walking by, tongue in cheek.
“You know, when you have a 10-point lead, it really isn’t much,’’ Donahue said. “It’s a little over three possessions, and it’s Kansas.”
Donahue talked about how the athleticism of the other guys extended further down their bench. The coach knew he couldn’t try to match it by extending his own rotation. He saw a tired group by the very end. No regrets there. That’s the way it works.
Playing Kansas in its home state made it all memorable.
“I found some Penn fans,’’ Ivy League director Robin Harris said before the game, pointing to the front row of the stands.
A family was wearing purple.
“K-State fans,’’ Harris said.
“Go Penn,’’ the father said.
The Quakers did not get to 24 wins this season by shrugging and simply saying, ah, this is great, so happy to be here. After Graham got to the foul line in the second half, Quakers senior Darnell Foreman came back to the bench and said to an assistant, “We could have been there if we were, like, thinking.”
It wasn’t frustration so much as an observation. OK, a little frustration. He meant they could have been there on that one play.
Asked about what regrets he’ll have from an X-and-O point, Foreman said, “more or less just some ball-screening defense. Could have been a little tougher there, you know. It was a credit to their guard, Graham. He was so good at it. He knows how to play it. So I wish we were a little bit more — we spent a little bit more time just getting them in and out of rhythm.”
Foreman kept talking, though, and said that was all to Graham’s credit. “I mean, we did a good job. We played as hard as we could play. And that’s all that I ask for. That’s all that the coaches ask for.”
Maybe the memory taken away from Intrust Arena is not the 10-point lead, after Ryan Betley hit his first shot and Caleb Wood hit his first touch and AJ Brodeur got in the act with a banked three from up top.
Graham had shown the toughness that goes with his skill set, scoring twice off offensive rebounds. Kansas eventually went up 33-26, although the last three drove Donahue crazy, since he had sent in Dev Goodman to foul Graham — the Quakers had fouls to give — and Goodman had done it. Donahue couldn’t believe the ref had ignored the first touch and given Goodman the foul when Graham got in a shooting motion. “He hugged him,’’ Donahue advised the ref, heatedly. “He hugged him the whole time.”
After halftime, Kansas had gone up 50-37 and the Rock Chalk Jayhawk crowd got fully revved up. Right then, Antonio Woods hit a three for Penn and Kansas missed a shot and a follow-up. Caleb Wood hit another three. Brodeur pulled off a spin move inside. The Quakers were within 50-45, and eventually 52-48 after another Wood three.
But this was Kansas and five straight empty Penn possessions that included a couple of missed free throws, that was it. Jayhawks coach Bill Self walked over to Donahue with a smile that said, you were not a No. 16 seed.
“I think they were probably even better than what I thought they would be watching on tape,’’ Self said.
Donahue had shaken hands with his starters coming off the court for the last time in this memorable season. Foreman, who had gotten the Quakers here with a memorable performance at the Palestra last weekend, was last off. A handshake wouldn’t do it. The senior went in for the hug. Regrets? How can there be?