PRINCETON, N.J. Zack Rosen will leave Penn as one of the most decorated basketball players in school history.
But he wont leave with an Ivy League championship.
Needing a win to share the conference title and force a one-game playoff with Harvard for the leagues NCAA tournament automatic berth, Penn lost a 62-52 heartbreaker to nemesis Princeton in its regular-season finale Tuesday at Jadwin Gym.
Penn, which finishes the season with a 19-12 overall record and an 11-3 mark in the Ivy League, must now await word if it will compete in the NIT, CBI or CIT, while Harvard (26-4, 12-2) clinches its first NCAA tournament berth since 1946.
Princeton, which beat Penn in the last years regular-season finale to earn a share of the Ivy title, closes its season at 19-11 overall and 10-4 in the league, one game behind the Quakers in the Ivy standings.
They didnt have anything to play for other than to be the spoilers, Penn head coach Jerome Allen said. How can a team thats playing for nothing play harder than the team thats supposedly playing for something? And thats really what blew my mind.
Rosen, a frontrunner for Ivy League and Big 5 Player of the Year honors, finished with a game-high 19 points but shot just 8 for 24 from the field and had just one assist to seven turnovers. Some of the shots Rosen made were difficult ones but the do-it-all senior just couldnt put his team on his back, like he has for much of the season.
Afterwards, in a gloomy postgame press conference, Rosen said little, his face buried beneath his hands.
For us, the season is either you win it or you dont, said Rosen, who ranks first in program history in assists and third in scoring. Whether youre close or youre not close, you either win it or you dont.
We blew our opportunity and thats the bottom line.
Seniors Tyler Bernardini, Rob Belcore and Mike Howlett also played their final regular-season game for the Quakers. Belcore, who Allen has praised all season as being the glue thats held this team together, filled out the stat sheet with nine points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists. But the Quakers defensive specialist couldnt slow down Princeton forward Ian Hummer, who led the Tigers with 18 points.
Bernardini, whos been battling with a foot injury, finished with just two points in 22 minutes, and Howlett, who has also been hobbled, didnt play which probably contributed to Penn getting outrebounded, 31-23, for the game.
I never thought for a second we were out, Belcore said. With the guy sitting to my right Rosen, hes going to need a month off for how tired his back has got to be. As long as he was taking the floor with me I thought he could carry us through the whole way. And he almost did. I think we let him down, the other 14 guys.
No one on Penn certainly played well early as the Quakers endured two scoring droughts longer than six minutes and fell behind 23-6 with 4:20 remaining. The main issue seemed to be that Penn was missing its shots, especially from behind the arc, but Allen was most disappointed that his team allowed Princeton to shoot 65 percent from the floor in the first half.
OK, the ball wasnt going in, Allen said. But offensively they just got whatever they wanted backdoors, offensive rebounds, open jump shots, open layups. And I think thats really where the problem lies.
Rosen pulled Penn within 10 at the half, and the Quakers managed to cut the lead to 34-31 on a Fran Dougherty (eight points, seven rebounds) tip with just over 12 minutes remaining.
But Princeton responded with a 7-0 run of its own to quell Penns charge, and from there the Quakers could not trim the deficit to less than six.
In my mind, I didnt feel right letting Penn share the Ivy League title and winning on our home court, said Princeton senior Douglas Davis, a Philly native, who finished with 12 points. This is a rivalry and our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard, they won the Ivy League. But Penn wasnt going to win it on our court.
For the Quakers, Tuesdays loss ends an improbable quest for an Ivy title. After four straight subpar seasons, Penn was picked to finish fourth in the league, and looked out of the race after losing two of its first six league games. But a seven-game winning streak, highlighted by a stunning come-from-behind win at Harvard on Feb. 25, put the Quakers in a position to capture their 26th league championship and first since 2007.
Falling just short and finishing in second place only amplifies the pain.
There are no moral victories by any means, Allen said. This is the University of Pennsylvania and were about winning championships. We dont prepare to come in second. We prepare to win. From that standpoint, not winning is a disappointment.
Whether we finish 11-3 or not, what does that do for us?
At the very least, Penn and Princeton now have outside shots of making the NIT and a far better shot of making one of the lesser postseason tournaments although for the Quakers, that wont make Tuesdays loss any easier to swallow, either.
Thats out of our control, Allen said. I just think the biggest thing we try to tell the guys is you always want to be in a position where you can control your own destiny. We had that opportunity tonight. Thats whats unfortunate.
Email Dave Zeitlin at email@example.com.