PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A little after 8 o’clock Saturday night, the loudest place on Brown University’s campus had to be Room 124 of the Pizzitola Sports Center, a locker room that houses Brown’s men’s tennis and squash teams. This night it was home to Penn’s men’s basketball team. A little after 8, a roar came through the door.
The door quickly opened and the whole room emptied down the hallway back out to the court. Two players held a banner with the words The Ivy League 2018 Champions.
On the court, group photos were taken and then someone yelled for Penn’s band to come out of the stands and join the photo.
“No, no, no, no, no,’’ said a security guard.
Penn coach Steve Donahue held up an index finger. He wasn’t calling a play. One photo. The security guard kept silent. The band stormed the court.
Yes, Penn will be back at the Palestra next weekend, trying to win the second annual Ivy tournament, which will determine the league’s NCAA bid, after over six decades of the league’s round-robin doing the trick.
This is what matters to the temporary residents of Room 124: After a 99-93 victory over Brown, the Quakers are regular-season champions for the first time since 2006-07, sharing the title with Harvard.
Before last season, under the old system, Penn and Harvard would be skipping past the semifinals, playing off for the title at some neutral site. Instead it will be Penn vs. Yale and Harvard vs. Cornell next Saturday at the Palestra, with the final on Sunday.
It seems as if much of Penn’s fan base is still in between-world thinking about how it all would have been under the old system. It’s a natural thing.
“It’s new for everybody,’’ Donahue said. “The traditionalists, I think, are confused. I’m 23 years in the league. You win this league, at 12-2, tied with anybody, that’s a hell of an accomplishment, and that’s why we hang the banner. That’s the Ivy League champ.
“We can worry about the tournament [now]. I never thought about the tournament. I wanted to win the championship, for these guys. It’s not about the legacy of the past. It’s about them having these incredible memories for themselves. It’s a round-robin, it’s as even as any league in the country. It’s back-to-back [games]. It’s a heck of an accomplishment.”
He talked for only for a minute inside Room 124.
“I shared with them — the day I stepped on campus — the incredible commitment I saw,’’ Donahue said. “Usually, you take over a job, the top three scorers leave, guys decommit. No one did. Guys that came in, they changed the culture. They wanted to win.”
He talked about a guy such as Jackson Donahue, who hadn’t been playing much lately, but had been killing it in practice. Donahue saw 10 minutes Saturday, made 2 of 3 three-pointers.
“That’s symbolic of our team,’’ Donahue said. “That’s what I think drove us to this championship.”
Trainer Phil Samko walked by. He’s been to more Ivy basketball games than anybody working at any of the Ivy schools, doing his thing for over three decades.
“Sammy, 11 years for you, been awhile, huh, big boy?” Donahue said.
“Been awhile,’’ Samko said.
“Been awhile,’’ Donahue said.
Quakers senior Darnell Foreman, who had 16 points and hit the free throws that finished off Brown, came out in the hallway. The Quakers won nine games when he was a freshman, improving to 11 as a sophomore, getting to 13 last season before this big breakthrough.
“I mean, it’s not the way I envisioned it, but I’m taking it,’’ Foreman said of the four-year journey. “To have your career go a complete [turnaround], it shows that hard work pays off. Stay with it, stay dedicated to the game, keep your head down, keep working.”
Having a single-digit-win season, he said, just struggling to find ways to win — “not knowing where you fit in sometimes. Dealing with transitions. Just being able to stay with it and stay focused. Then seeing it all come together. Having a group of guys who care about each other, who commit to doing all the things that win the game.”
If fans maybe were caught thinking what might have been and not been under the old system, Foreman said players had to stick to short-term goals.
“We’re going to enjoy this for — not too long — and then we’re going to focus on getting the bid,’’ Foreman said.
You can take a photo with a banner on another team’s court, but you don’t cut down a net. Penn’s director of basketball operations, Brad Fadem, came out in the hallway. He’d been on the phone with someone back on campus. Fadem asked Donahue about cutting down nets at the Palestra. They figured the bus would be back to 33rd Street at about 2 a.m.
Donahue told him, let’s do it.