After putting itself in an early hole, a valiant resurgence by Penn basketball fell just short, resulting in a 70-68 loss at the hands of Navy.
The game began rather unexpectedly, with a usually modest-shooting Midshipmen (3-4) team knocking down shot after shot. Conversely, the Quakers (2-2) began the game ice cold. With Navy almost scoring at will, it was the scoring from senior Matt Howard and sophomore Jackson Donahue that kept the Red and Blue within striking distance early.
In response to his team’s offensive struggles, Penn coach Steve Donahue was hesitant to point to anything schematically, attributing the difficulties instead to the natural flow of the game.
“I told the team that Navy was hitting a few shots they usually don’t hit and that we were missing a few that we usually make,” he said.
Throughout the course of the first half, Donahue also had to make important decisions regarding his defensive setup against the red-hot Midshipmen. Alternating between a man-to-man and a zone defense, the Quakers attempted — to disappointingly little success — to throw off any rhythm that Navy was developing.
“I don’t think Navy is a particularly strong passing team,” Donahue noted. “When you play a man against them, you can really grind them out. But I think one of our strengths is our zone.”
Despite Donahue’s best efforts, Navy guards Hasan Abdullah and Ryan Pearson lit up the Quakers for a combined 19 first-half points.
To compound Penn’s troubles, star freshman A.J. Brodeur got into early foul trouble, picking up a second first-half foul at the 10:18 mark and exiting the game for the remainder of the half.
“It’s no secret that A.J. is one of our best defenders in the zone,” Donahue said. “He can body guys inside and stop penetration. I think losing him hurt us on both sides of the court.”
Without Brodeur in the lineup, the Quakers were outscored by six in the final 10 minutes of the period and went into the half staring at a 46-36 deficit.
Coming out in the second half, Donahue knew something needed to change. Talking to his team at the break, he stressed what the Red and Blue could control — energy and physicality.
“I think we came out and played with more effort and little tougher, and that’s what turned it around at the beginning of the second half,” Donahue said. “For a large portion of the first frame, Navy was simply smarter and more physical than we were.”
Whatever Donahue said, it seemed to work in the early stages of the second half. A 20-6 run early in the period saw the Quakers up six, to that point their largest lead of the day.
A few minutes later, Penn was up eight. Everything seemed to be headed in the right direction for the Red and Blue. However, as always seems to happen in sports, Penn let the Blue and Gold hang around and paid dearly for it.
Despite being on top for long stretches of the second half, a late-game scoring drought saw the Quakers go the last five minutes of regulation without a single point. In that time, Navy scored 9, scoring the go-ahead bucket with just 16 seconds remaining. On the Red and Blue’s last possession of the game, the opportunity for a basket was nullified by an offensive foul from junior guard Caleb Wood.
Although the nature of the loss was bitterly disheartening for the team, Donahue praised his team’s growth since the season began.
“It isn’t easy to play on the road in college basketball, and we’ve started the season with four straight away from home,” Donahue said. “Winning this game would’ve been a great step for us, but I think regardless of the result we showed some of the growth this team has had in the past couple weeks.
“It’s just about overcoming some of the things we didn’t do well today and getting ready for a tough game against Villanova.”
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