Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue is not one to overreact. But after losing both legs of a weekend doubleheader, things are going from bad to worse for the Quakers in conference play.
The team's Ivy Tournament hopes took a serious dent this weekend, as both the Yale Bulldogs and Brown Bears stormed into the Palestra and handled the Quakers, by scores of, 68-60, and, 82-70, respectively. The Red and Blue played most of both games from behind. Worryingly, as both games wore on, a lack of offensive execution doomed any hopes of a Penn comeback in either matchup.
On Friday, the Bulldogs started a much taller lineup than the Quakers (6-8, 0-3 Ivy), so competing on the boards was naturally going to be a challenge. As the game progressed, it proved to be just that — Yale (9-6, 1-1) out-rebounded Penn 42-31, including 10 offensive rebounds. Too often for the Red and Blue, a good defensive possession would be spoiled by a second-chance bucket. Despite the rebounding disadvantage, coach Steve Donahue maintained that the size advantage for Yale only played a significant role because of the poor shooting from the Quakers.
“They’re a good rebounding team,” Donahue said. “We play a smaller lineup like a lot of teams in our league do. When you go up against a team like Yale that’s more traditional, you have to match that physicality. One of the reasons we play small is to get those open shots on the perimeter, and they weren’t falling tonight.”
The positives were few and far between for the Red and Blue on the night, but one big plus for the Quakers was the scoring from sophomore guard Jackson Donahue. With the rest of the team struggling to get going on offense, it was Donahue who kept Penn in the game early in the second half. If the Quakers can heat up Donahue, who was a solid scorer during stretches last season, they have a real chance to get results against the tougher opponents in the Ivy League.
After a quick turnaround, the Red and Blue squared off with Brown on Saturday.
A frantic opening few minutes featured both offenses putting up points, a trend that would continue for nearly the entirety of the game. Noticeably for the Quakers, Matt Howard, who had been struggling to score in the first two Ancient Eight clashes, showed a renewed shooting stroke, getting into double figures by halftime.
“If we’re going to win, Matt is going to be a consistent scorer,” Donahue said. “He’s an integral part of what we’re doing. I think he played hard tonight.”
However, it was Brown (10-8, 1-1) who took a 36-31 lead into the intermission. Penn made a couple determined scoring runs during the second half, but the efforts eventually fell short as the Bears pulled away in the final minutes to hands the Quakers an 82-70 loss.
Whether it be offense or defense, the improvements need to come quickly for the Quakers. Looking at the next few Ivy games, it does not get any easier for the Red and Blue. Matchups at Harvard, at Dartmouth, and a home rematch against Princeton will all be stern tests for a team that still has its sights on an Ivy League Tournament berth.
On the topic of the conference tournament, Donahue still remains optimistic about his team’s chances despite these early setbacks.
“We have three weeks right now where we don’t play in the Ivy,” Donahue pointed out. “We have a great opportunity to really get better with two Big 5 games.”
And if Penn is to have any chance at making the conference tournament, the team better hope that Donahue is right. One thing is for sure — the Quakers have to improve, and quickly.
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