Penn basketball — like most of Brown’s opponents — thought it could beat the Bears by limiting their powerful forwards, Rafael Maia and Cedric Kuakumensah.
JR Hobbie begged to differ.
The Brown guard scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half, hitting three treys while the Quakers’ inefficient offense did the rest of the work in a 71-55 Bears victory.
Penn (7-14, 2-5 Ivy) entered Saturday’s contest with a reputation for coming out flat in the back end of Ivy weekends and did little to shed that reputation early on. The Quakers shot just 33 percent from the field in the first half, with guards Tony Hicks and Antonio Woods missing all 10 of their combined shots before the break.
Frustrated, Penn coach Jerome Allen shuffled the lineup numerous times, giving sophomore guard Matt Poplawski extended minutes.
At first, the move seemed to pay off. Poplawski energized the Red and Blue on defense and drove hard to the basket for an and-one with 5.1 seconds remaining in the first half that sent the Quakers into the halftime break up one, 30-29.
“I didn’t think our level of excitement was great in the first half,” Allen said. “I thought we made some plays. I thought Matty Pop[lawski] gave us a huge lift going into halftime. It was better than previous Saturdays.
“We just didn’t finish the proper way.”
As Penn’s offensive struggles mounted, frustration boiled over. Hicks finished 1-for-12 from the field, sitting out the final 6:22 of the contest once he was assessed with a technical foul for arguing with a referee.
Turnovers, Penn’s most consistently vexing issue, arose again. Among the Red and Blue’s seven giveaways in the second half were a Hicks pass that landed five rows up in the student section, a Matt Howard slip-and-fall and a collision between two Penn players that sent the ball out of bounds.
Hobbie then converted when Penn couldn’t corral 50/50 balls in its own end. He hit two threes in the span of a minute that pushed Brown’s lead from 36-34 to 44-34 with 14:08 to go, a margin the Bears (11-14, 2-6) held all the way home.
“When [Hobbie’s] making shots, we’re a different team,” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “We tried to run some stuff for him. I thought Tavon [Blackmon] and Steven [Spieth] and Rafa [Maia], they all did a good job finding him and getting him shots and screening for him.”
Saturday’s embarrassment came on the heels of the Red and Blue’s second straight 27-point loss. After the Quakers were blown out by Columbia last weekend, Yale exploited Penn in virtually all facets of the game on Friday.
Junior forward Justin Sears led the charge for Yale (17-7, 7-1) as usual, bolstering his Ivy League Player of the Year candidacy with an all-around dominant effort. The Bulldogs’ offense ran through the junior star and was complemented by 12 three-pointers, including four treys apiece by guards Jack Montague and Makai Mason.
Sears didn’t even score in the second half, but his presence was felt on the defensive end throughout the contest. He added three obliterating blocks in the second half alone to finish the matchup with a seven-point, six-assist, five-block effort that stymied the Red and Blue.
With the losses, Penn has now been swept at home by Yale and Brown for the second consecutive year, a mark that looks especially dubious in light of the fact that the Quakers had never been swept at home by the Bulldogs and Bears until 2014.
All the Quakers can do is try to push that ignominious fact out of their collective heads as they head on the road for two consecutive weekends.
“I think we will approach this week the same way we approach every week leading up to Ivy weekends,” Allen said.
With only seven games left in Ivy play, time is running out for the Quakers to see the payoff of that approach.
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