Palestra Pandemonium

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From left to right, head coach Tom Schneider, sophomore forward Vince Curran, and assistant coach Gordon Austin celebrate Penn’s shocking one-point win over nationally ranked Villanova in 1988.

When Penn knocked off Villanova at the Palestra in November [“Sports,” this issue], it was especially surprising since ’Nova was nationally ranked and the Quakers hadn’t come into the season with high expectations.

Kind of like what happened 35 years earlier.

Penn’s 1988–89 men’s basketball team—Tom Schneider’s last as head coach, before Fran Dunphy began his wildly successful tenure—finished 13–13 overall and won only one of its four Big 5 games. But it was a big one.

Villanova was ranked 17th in the nation when it came to the Palestra for an early-season clash on December 6, 1988—only for Walt Frazier III C’89, Penn’s sole senior, to score 25 points to lift the Quakers to a 71–70 upset win.

Just as students began to rush the court in celebration, longtime Gazette contributor Tommy Leonardi C’89, then a senior at Penn, ran across the gym to capture the above photograph, which was splashed across the front page of the following day’s Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Photographing sports requires keen anticipation, with these moments of elation being especially rare and fleeting,” Leonardi said. “I knew that as soon as the buzzer sounded, I had to sprint across the court, directly at the Penn bench—while also composing and focusing correctly.”

In the photo, sophomore forward Vince Curran EAS’92 W’92—now Penn’s long-serving broadcaster for basketball games—is raising his arms in triumph, between Schneider and assistant coach Gordon Austin. When shown the photo after a recent Palestra game, Curran said he “remembers it like it was yesterday,” joking that “I always say my one point that game made the difference.”

What actually made the biggest difference, Curran added, was the play of Jose Tavarez W’90, who scored off an offensive rebound to give Penn a late 67–65 lead, which the Quakers never relinquished. “Jose was kind of the hidden gem that day,” Curran said. “I saw him at a golf outing about a month ago and we were reminiscing about it. It was a highlight for him, and it was certainly a highlight for me.”

In the DP article on the win, titled “Palestra Pandemonium,” Tavarez said, “Coach Schneider gave the most inspiring pep talk I’ve ever heard, and we came out flying.” And Frazier, a first-team All-Ivy guard and the son of the Basketball Hall of Famer, called it “the greatest win of my career.” —DZ

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