By David Porter | Like it or not, there is a total of about 80 minutes a year, with some occasional spillover, that can determine a Penn basketball player’s reputation for a lifetime: Whatever happens in the two games against Princeton each season endures. For proof, consult the following entries in the Quaker basketball encyclopedia: Salters W’80, James (“Booney”) (game-winning shot in the 1980 Ivy League playoff game); Duncombe C’91, Hassan (gravity-defying rebound and score off a missed foul shot at the buzzer, 1990) and Moxley W’96, Donald (0-for-14 from the field in the 1996 Ivy League playoff loss).
Tim Begley’s body of work against the Tigers, not to mention just about everybody else he played against for the past four seasons, should merit the senior guard a Lifetime Achievement award to go along with his Ivy Player of the Year award and honorable-mention All-America selection. The fact that the Freehold, New Jersey, resident grew up assuming he would end up wearing orange and black only makes the story more compelling.
“Oh, it means the world to me,” Begley said unhesitatingly after Penn shot down the Tigers 64-56 on March 8 at Jadwin Gym to cap its third Ivy title in the last four years and give coach Fran Dunphy his eighth 20-win season. “I wanted to go to Princeton all through high school. I probably couldn’t have told you anything about Penn until Coach Dunphy called me on the phone.”
Whatever Dunphy told Begley about Penn did the trick, and Quakers fans have been the beneficiaries of his decision for the last four years. Not so Princeton, which has had to suffer the slings and arrows of Begley’s high-arching 3-pointers twice each season. In Begley’s eight games against Princeton, Penn was 7-1, though the Quakers could be 1-7 and he would still own a place in our hearts if the one win were this season’s 70-62 overtime thriller on February 8.
In that game, Begley made seven of his 11 shots from the field and finished with 20 points, but it was his off-balance, off-the-backboard 3-pointer in overtime that essentially sealed the game and topped off the Quakers’ improbable comeback from an 18-point deficit late in the second half. That gave Penn its eighth straight win; eight more wins followed, the only blemish being a 78-60 loss at Yale in what has become an annual occurrence in recent years at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where the Elis annually save their best for the Quakers.
In the finale at Princeton, Begley had an uncharacteristically sub-par shooting game, but still was one of four Quakers in double figures in the 64-56 victory. The 16-1 streak to end the season was one of the most impressive in recent memory, on a par with the 10-0 season-ending flourish in 2001-2002, Begley’s freshman year.
Though this edition of the Quakers was definitely Begley’s team, it was by no means a one-man show. Second-team All-Ivy selection Ibrahim Jaaber, a sophomore guard, broke the school and Ivy League records for steals in a game and season. He and Begley combined for 50 points in the 80-72 title-clinching win at Columbia on February 26 on a night when Begley broke Matt Maloney C’95’s career record for 3-pointers. Sophomores Steve Danley and Mark Zoller were rock-solid in the frontcourt and were rewarded with honorable-mention All Ivy designations. Senior forward Jan Fikiel blossomed into a scoring threat and gave the Quakers an imposing body under the basket to go along with his feathery baseline jumpers.
With Jaaber, Danley, Zoller, sophomore forward Ryan Pettinella, and impressive freshman guard David Whitehurst returning, expect Penn to be the pre-season favorite to win the Ivy League and give Dunphy his 10th title in 17 years at the helm. The truth is, despite the fact that all eight Ivy teams had at least 10 overall wins this season for the first time since formal Ivy play was instituted, it was a down year for the league, symbolized by Princeton’s uncharacteristic slide to 6-8 under first-year coach Joe Scott.
Parity may be a good thing for the National Football League, but it is not necessarily a good thing for Ivy League basketball, which will always be measured by the Penn-Princeton dynamic. It is now incumbent on Princeton to hold up its end of the deal, a challenge that may become just a little less daunting now that Begley’s four-year reign over the Tigers has ended.
David Porter C’82 writes for the Associated Press.