PHILADELPHIA — It was an experience the Stockton University men’s basketball team and its faithful supporters who made the trip will never forget.
The Ospreys competed against the University of Pennsylvania in an exhibition game Saturday afternoon at the Palestra, an iconic venue dubbed the “Cathedral of Basketball.”
Stockton lost 112-63 to the Quakers in a contest that does not count toward either team’s record, but the game went beyond just the stats and the score.
It created memories.
“It was cool and a great experience for everyone involved in it,” Stockton junior forward Steve Ferebee said. “It is something that we can learn from going forward and getting ready for conference play.”
Ferebee, who graduated from Absegami High School in 2016, said playing Penn, an NCAA Division I program and the defending Ivy League champion, was a learning experience.
Ferebee scored six points with four rebounds.
“I was excited,” said Ferebee, 20, of Galloway Township. “And playing in a historic arena made it pretty cool.”
The Palestra opened Jan. 1, 1927, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other arena in the country and was the site of so many Big Five doubleheaders.
Stockton coach Scott Bittner witnessed many games there with his father, Jack, who died in 2004 of a brain hemorrhage after beating cancer.
Bittner is friends with Penn coach Steve Donahue, which led to the exhibition between their programs.
“It was great. I mean, just as soon as you walk through the concourse and the second floor, it brings back a lot of memories,” Bittner said. “The funny thing is, some of those pictures, I was here for a lot of those games. … It was awesome when it came to that.”
Bittner said most of his players had never been to the Palestra and thought the game was simply an opportunity for the D-III Ospreys to go up against a D-I program.
“I had to say, ‘Listen, you are playing at the most historic arena in the country, so you think the big deal is playing this team, but the big deal is playing in this gym.’”
For freshman Kyion Flanders, a graduate of Wildwood High School, the message was received.
Flanders had four rebounds, scored two points and had one assist and a steal.
“Being able to play here my first year, it is definitely a great experience for me,” said Flanders, 18, of Wildwood. “They are a good team and were able to push us and show us what we need to work on the rest of the season.”
“Definitely being able to come here my freshman year, it is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Tim Lenahan, the Northwestern University men’s soccer coach and a 1983 Stockton graduate, resides in Evanston, Illinois, and, while visiting family for Thanksgiving, jumped at the opportunity to see the game.
Lenahan, 59, coached men’s soccer at Stockton from 1990-98. He has led Northwestern to three Big 10 championships and nine NCAA tournaments in 18 years.
“As an alum, to be able to come back and watch Stockton play in this hallowed hall,” he said, “I just think it is great for the university and the players to play at a place like this. We were just looking at our ticket earlier, and it said ‘Stockton and Penn at The Palestra.’ It is something I’m going to save.
“I love being a part of Stockton.”
Stockton President Dr. Harvey Kesselman also attended.
“I think it is an extraordinary opportunity for our student-athletes,” said Kesselman, 67, of Mays Landing. “I think it is a great compliment for Stockton’s growing reputation, and we are just honored to have ... our pretty young team ... play against a storied program in one of the most famous arenas in the United States.”
“It is a great experience,” the 1971 Stockton graduate added. “ It gives them the opportunity to play against a very solid Division I program, and it gives them a confident booster.”
The Ospreys (2-1) will host Rutgers-Camden in a New Jersey Athletic Conference game at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“Hope to pick up some of their good habits and build on it as a team,” Bittner said. “Steve (Donahue) is one of the best coaches in the county, so it was a great experience to play against one of his teams and see how they get it done.”