On Wednesday night, Penn men’s basketball was beaten by a much better team.
The Red and Blue were routed by Saint Joseph’s, a well-oiled juggernaut of a squad that sits as the nation’s 30th-best team by RPI. The Quakers, for their part, sit closer to No. 300.
Despite the predictably disappointing result, the Quakers had one undeniable bright spot in the 75-60 loss: the continued excellent play of freshman guard Jackson Donahue. The rookie notched a game-high 19 points on 6-for-15 shooting — the entirety of which came from three-point range.
“One that first one goes down, it really gets me going,” Donahue said. “I was really feeling it today.”
Donahue got off to an inauspicious start in the first half — apart from a long jumper on the game’s first possession, the Connecticut native was essentially a non-factor, scoring only those three points. Meanwhile, the Saint Joe’s duo of Deandre Bembry and Aaron Brown combined for 20 points to fuel a 39-23 Hawk lead at intermission.
The freshman, however, was an entirely different player in the second half. As the crowd slowly filtered out of the arena while the clock approached 11:00 p.m., Donahue logged 10 points in the period’s first seven minutes. While the game’s outcome was never truly in doubt, the Quakers were able to whittle down the lead to 12 points with 11 minutes remaining in the contest.
Earlier this season, as the team entered winter break, I called out Donahue in a roundtable of Daily Pennsylvanian sports editors for his disappointing start to the season — at the time, he had played a total of only 20 minutes through the team’s first six games, averaging just 1.2 points per contest.
Clearly, I lit a fire under Donahue. The rookie has averaged 17.5 points over his last four contests, never scoring fewer than 16 in a game over that span. A rotational afterthought just a month ago, Donahue is now the squad’s premier perimeter threat as the Quakers head into the Ancient Eight part of their schedule.
“Coming into Ivy league play, [being the focus of opposing defenses] is something I’m really going to have to deal with,” Donahue acknowledged.
Donahue’s emergence comes as Penn desperately looks to replace the offensive hole left by former guard Antonio Woods, who was declared academically ineligible for the remainder of the 2015-16 season on Jan. 9. While Woods’ sudden absence is clearly a major wrench in the team’s plan, it has been far from the death knell that it very well could have been.
Behind the recent stellar play of Donahue and fellow freshman guard Jake Silpe, the Penn backcourt has not seemed to hiccup in the slightest. While it will require a bit of temerity for coach Steve Donahue to rely primarily on freshman to carry the offensive burden during the grind of conference play, the youngsters’ performance — and that of (Jackson) Donahue in particular — has not been a flash in the pan. At this point, it is a full-blown positive trend.
So while Wednesday’s game — the nightcap of a Big 5 doubleheader at the Palestra — was not the earth-shattering, season-making victory that the Red and Blue dreamed it might be, it was yet another positive step in the right direction.
And leading that charge has been led by a plucky 6-foot-yeah-right freshman making just his fourth start of the season. Nobody saw this coming — not even his coach.
“He’s got a fire, a competitiveness to his that I kind of estimated,” Steve Donahue acknowledged.
“Sometimes you can’t judge a book by its cover, and he’s a perfect example.”
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