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Penn's Foreman goes from unwanted to unmatched in Ivy championship

03/11/2018, 6:45pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Darnell Foreman (above) scored 19 points in the first half of Penn's Ivy League championship win. (Photo: Tommy Smith/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Darnell Foreman was the personification of the momentum Penn was feeling.

As the first half of Sunday afternoon’s Ivy League championship game ran out its final seconds, the Penn senior dribbled the ball across halfcourt, found daylight from the left wing, pulled up from beyond the arc, and connected.

As the Quakers faithful roared in approval, their team having stormed back from a double-digit first-half deficit against Harvard to go up two points at the break, Foreman didn’t stop.

Racing down the court and motioning for the fans to get even louder, Foreman went right off the court and into the locker room, followed by his teammates, coaches and the rest of the Penn program, the roar filling the Palestra until well after they’d all left the court.

That capped off a 19-point half for Foreman, a near-flawless one in which he hit six of his seven shots and all three of his 3-pointers.

He didn’t score again. He didn’t need to.

A little more than an hour later, Foreman was sitting atop the east bucket of the Palestra, celebrating Penn’s first Ivy League title in 11 years.

“I wanted to be like Mike Jordan,” he said, referencing not the NBA Hall-of-Famer but the former Quaker standout and Big 5 Hall-of-Fame selection, who scored over 1,600 points at Penn from 1996-2000 and now coaches at Colgate. “You walk in the gym every day, you walk past Mike Jordan and other guys who have done that, you just think to yourself, ‘man, I want that opportunity.’ I just took advantage of it.”

Not bad for a player who head coach Steve Donahue wasn’t all that excited about when he first took the job three years ago.

Foreman, a Camden (N.J.) native, was a solid guard during his years at Pitman (N.J.), helping lead the way to a NJ Group I (small-school) state championship his senior year. But he wasn’t a highly-coveted college prospect, a left-handed 6-foot-tall guard known mostly for his defensive abilities.

Eventually, Foreman got involved with Penn, coming to the Quakers in March of 2014 and arriving on campus that fall, the final season of head coach Jerome Allen’s tenure. As a freshman, he worked his way into 28 appearances (16 starts), averaging 3.5 ppg but making only 32 percent of his shots and 25.6 percent of his 3-pointers.

“Honestly, when i came in here, I thought ‘I better get somebody better than Darnell Foreman if I’m going to win a championship,’” Donahue said. “And sure enough, every stinking day he proved me wrong.”

Foreman has now started 75 of the 116 games he’s played in his Penn career, and his numbers have ticked up each season, to the point where he came into Sunday averaging 10.4 ppg,, 4.5 rpg and 3.7 apg, starting all 32 of the Quakers’ games this season.

Sure, he still isn’t a great 3-point shooter, making only 27 percent of his attempts on the season entering play on Sunday. But that didn’t stop him from hitting three huge ones in the first half, including the one to put Penn up at half and give the Quakers all the momentum they needed.

“They didn’t get out on Darnell, they went under ball screens -- almost insulting to Darnell, even though it shouldn’t be, but it is,” Donahue said. “And that’s why you saw him do what he did. He wanted to prove to Harvard that ‘you better guard me straight up.’”

In the second half, Foreman only took three shots, his teammates picking up the offense in the Quakers’ first-ever Ivy League tournament victory; their previous 23 NCAA Tournament appearances all came before the Ancient Eight instituted its four-team postseason tournament a year ago.

“Like the Sixers,” he said, “we’ve completed the process.”

Darnell Foreman has proved a lot of people wrong over the course of his college career.

That’s why he’s going dancing.

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