Last night’s swan song for Jerome Allen did not follow the script his legion of admirers hoped to see. The ousted coach surely went out the door with class, appearing on the bench in his Penn letter sweater, evoking memories of his heroic exploits on the court, a dramatic statement of loyalty and roots.
The standing ovation, a spontaneous reaction to his introduction as head coach for the final time, while surely not unexpected, provoked an emotional response. Allen sat hunched over while the applause cascaded over him, self-consciously fiddling with his left ankle, gathering himself.
His boss, new Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun, sat across the court from the team bench, occupying a prominent seat on press row, very much in charge. I sat in Calhoun’s seat for the women’s game, courtesy of her. She did oust me for the men’s game, but it was better for her to be visible.
After all, the Palestra and Penn Athletics alike are her domain now. She expects to restore Penn’s glory days on the court, and she expects to begin soon.
The game started on a hopeful note for the Quakers, who raced out to an early 8-0 lead over the sluggish Tigers, perhaps feeling the effects of the bus ride down Route 1. By the middle of the first half, order was restored, as Penn reverted to its sloppy ball-handling ways and some poor shot selection. The Tigers grabbed the lead at halftime, 37-31.
Things got worse immediately for the beleaguered home team in the second stanza. A 9-0 Tiger run pushed the lead to 46-31, and after Penn went 0-for-11 from the field, the Tiger lead ballooned to 57-33. Princeton coasted from there, finishing on the plus side of a 73-52 score.
Junior Hans Brase, selected for the All-Ivy Second Team by the prestigious Big Apple Buckets website, continued his recent resurgence, adding a team-high 18 points to the 37 he scored over the weekend. Henry Caruso, the California sophomore recognized as the Ivy League’s Most Improved Player by Big Apple Buckets, contributed 15, as he and Brase continuously forced the ball to the rim, often getting fouled as a result. Mitch Henderson is delighted to see this hard-nosed ethic develop in his team which returns eight major contributors next year. This slashing style often produces kick-out three-point opportunities, of which Spencer Weisz and Clay Wilson were the primary beneficiaries last night, as they combined for 27 points, 15 from behind the arc.
Henderson’s fourth straight winning season to start his Tiger career was perhaps the toughest campaign he has waged. He needed to sweep his last four, and he did as the Tigers mounted their beast sustained run of the season when they needed it most. Princeton (16-14) now waits for one of the made-for-TV tournaments to come calling. News that the 15-15 Dartmouth Big Green are going to the CIT buoyed the spirits of the young Tigers who are anxious to keep this excellent run alive. Hopefully, they will do so at home.