After holding out for decades, the Ivy League became the last Division I NCAA basketball conference to create an end-of-season tournament. Why did it finally conform in 2016–17 after years of sticking to tradition, you ask? Look no farther than the 1-4 matchup of the men’s tournament held at the Palestra.
The 1:00 p.m. Saturday matchup pitted No. 1 undefeated regular-season champion Princeton against the N0. 4 sub-.500 Quakers. For all intents and purposes, this game was a mere formality in the Tigers’ march to the NCAA Tournament.
But Penn certainly did not come out like the underdogs. Although the game was fairly close for the entirety of its duration, the Quakers never trailed in 40 minutes of regulation. Even more surprisingly, Penn rode the shoulders of two freshman en route to its spectacular play.
Forward AJ Brodeur continued his sensational freshman campaign in his first taste of collegiate postseason action with a double-double in 40 minutes of play. He was joined by fellow first-year guard Ryan Bentley, who followed in suit to put together the game of his season with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
With its back against the wall, Princeton needed a herculean effort to come back from a 10-point deficit with 15 minutes left on the clock. But if any team could pull it off, it was going to be the 14–0 Tigers.
After inching closer and closer, Princeton eventually tied the contest at 57 behind a pair of free throws from sharpshooter Devin Cannady. At this point, the Quakers could have easily folded and succumbed to powerhouse Princeton; instead, they responded with a floater from senior Matt Howard to draw ahead by 2 with less than a minute to go — 43 seconds to be exact.
43 seconds — that’s all that stood in between the Penn and the greatest win of the 2016–17 Ivy season.
But it wasn’t to be. The resilient Tigers searched for the magic that allowed them to put together an unblemished regular season, and they found it in a Stephens put-back tip with six seconds to go to force the game into overtime.
Ultimately, this was the blow that Penn could not recover from. After holding off Princeton time and time again, the Quakers finally relinquished their lead and allowed the Tigers to take the game.
In the end, Princeton stayed undefeated. With a 13–5 overtime advantage, the Tigers kept their dreams of dancing to March Madness alive as the Princeton crowd let out a sigh of relief.
But for 39 minutes and 54 seconds, an unheralded Penn team was oh-so-close to toppling the giants of the Ancient Eight. For 39 minutes and 54 seconds,the close-to-8,000 fans in the Palestra were on the verge of witnessing the unbelievable.
That’s why the Ivy League finally decided to put together a conference tournament.