Neither team had won a game in six tries. Thirty percent of the projected starting lineups were out injured. Still, a few hundred students, one end decked out in Penn blue, the other in Drexel gold, chanting on each baseline, sounded like a few thousand.
The 10 players out on the Palestra court and those waiting for their chance to be part of it might have considered some larger picture from time to time. Mostly, they played through the long bricks, the short layups, all the missed threes (really, all the missed threes), the turnovers and the echoes, real and imagined.
Whatever the scoreboard and box score eventually would show, this was never going to be a game that could be judged by numbers. To understand this game, it had to be felt.
It was about a bunch of college kids who wanted to play some hoops, win a game, rule 33rd Street for a year.
Penn did not have Tyler Bernardini (injured foot) or Andreas Schreiber (shoulder). Drexel was without Leon Spencer (fractured wrist), who is out for 2 months.
Who did what will be little remembered. Nobody on that floor is going to the NBA. And none of it mattered.
These people were playing because it mattered to them.
Not diving for loose balls was not an option. This was a will game, not a skill game.
And that is a game Drexel is going to win on most nights. This was most nights. And the Dragons (1-3) got that precious first win, 58-49. Penn (0-4) is still searching.
When Drexel was opening a 10-point first-half lead, it actually made six straight baskets, which must be some sort of a school record. On their best days, the Dragons, under Bruiser Flint, will never be mistaken for the Phoenix Suns.
"Only for a short period of time," Flint said of his team's good shooting. "We get looks. We run good offense."
The Dragons led 26-20 at the break. It probably should have been more, what with Penn shooting just 31.8 percent and having more turnovers (10) than baskets (seven).
Drexel had lost in overtime at Saint Joseph's and at the buzzer at Rutgers. Penn had given up a big lead and lost in double overtime to Delaware. Somebody was going to finish a game. It wasn't Penn.
"I thought in the second half, we made a decent offensive adjustment and really started getting the ball inside a lot more," Quakers coach Glen Miller said."They're a tough team to beat off the dribble. They had more foot speed than us."
It was not a good sign when the Dragons were shooting 53.3 percent early in the second half and leading by just eight points. Drexel just does not shoot that well for an entire game. The Dragons promptly missed their next six shots and Penn closed to 37-35 with 11 minutes left.
"I don't want to say I expect it," Flint said. "But, in our conference, we've got to come in and win games like this.
"This is a tough game because our guys and their guys, they live with each other in the fall and the spring, getting each other ready for the season. There is no surprise."
For third straight year, a school first, Drexel owns the space between the Palestra and the DAC. Drexel had an answer for everything, even the Penn rollouts.
Penn students: "Drexel can you read this? Drexel, can you read anything?"
Drexel students: "A.J. Drexel, the man who made Wall Street. Wharton grads, the men who destroyed it."
Penn could do little with Drexel point guard Jamie Harris (career-high 22 points). The Dragons got 10 points and 10 rebounds (eight offensive) from Evan Neisler.
Penn got double-doubles from Jack Eggleston (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Mike Howlett (10 points, 13 rebounds), as well as 13 points from point guard Zack Rosen.
"Keep pushing," Rosen said when asked what it would take to win. "We're right there. That's why it's so frustrating. If we were getting blown out, if we were not competitive, it wouldn't hurt as much."
The teams combined to attempt 19 three-pointers. The next make will be the first. Drexel had gone 520 consecutive games with at least one three, every game since Feb. 14, 1992. Now they have gone one without a three. And won't care one bit.
"Honestly, it's a miracle our streak hasn't been stopped a long time ago," Flint said.