NEW HAVEN, CONN.- Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, and Aerosmith would be proud of Penn basketball.
Because Friday night against Yale, it was the “Same Old Song and Dance.”
Though the Bulldogs (12-9, 6-1 Ivy) left the door open early for the Quakers to pick up an upset win and get back in the Ivy race, the Red and Blue (6-14, 3-3) decided to throw it away, committing foolish turnovers and costly fouls ad nauseam in a disappointing 69-54 loss.
The game seemed up for grabs at first, as poor Yale shooting on open looks from behind the arc and a nifty layup from sophomore guard Tony Hicks were enough to give the Quakers a 20-12 lead with 5:48 to go.
Then the wheels came off.
Penn turned the ball over six times over the remainder of the half, and Yale recaptured the lead — and all of the game’s momentum — with a thunderous 13-2 run to close the half that included a thunderous two-handed jam from the Bulldogs’ Justin Sears that brought the John J. Lee Ampitheater down.
Penn simply had no answer for Sears — who finished with a game-high 25 points — in a war of attrition down low, as the sophomore forward bullied his way into second-chance opportunities.
Sears and his teammates were able to force the Quakers into foul trouble quickly with their inside presence, forcing Penn to commit 31 fouls while collecting 16 offensive rebounds.
“The numbers don’t lie, they just dominated the paint,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “And I think at the end of the day, that’s just a function of will.”
“We kind of put our stake into defending and rebounding,” Yale coach James Jones added. “It’s taken a while for us to grasp that identity but I think we’ve finally gotten to it.”
And on the other end of the floor, Penn ran into disaster.
After Hicks’ layup, the Quakers would only score on three of their next 23 possessions, an ugly streak that included 10 turnovers and wasn’t snapped until Hicks made a long two-point jumper with 13:22 to go in the second half that cut the Penn deficit to a 37-26 margin.
“I’m not sure if it’s fatigue or just our inability to maintain our focus,” Allen said. “It wasn’t a pretty game .. I think it was a large result of just taking poor shots or turning the ball over or just giving up offensive rebounds.”
But to their credit, the Red and Blue never rolled over for the Bulldogs, fighting back to cut the lead to six points with 4:44 to play.
Sears, though, would make sure the Quakers played dead.
On Yale’s next possession, he charged inside and was hacked by Penn forward Fran Dougherty to extend the lead to eight. Then, after a missed three by Penn senior guard Dau Jok, Sears cut inside again and laid it in despite heavy contact from Jok, drawing a foul and screaming to the rafters in jubilation.
Though he missed the ensuing free throw, the damage had been done — Penn’s Ivy hopes were functionally toast.
Sears’ toughness has helped define Yale this season, who have vaulted to a tie atop the Ivy standings with Harvard.
“It’s kind of who we are,” Jones said. “We need to get the ball to Justin and Matt Townsend and Brandon Sherrod … we need to be able to get those guys touches and shots.
“And when we don’t, we’re not as good.”
All the Quakers can do now is try and rally together as they head up north to take on Brown on Saturday.
“I don’t think tonight we were engaged in the action as every [road] trip,” Allen said.
The Quakers may be able to change that before Saturday, but it just might be too late for it to make a difference.