BOSTON — This one hurts.
After jumping out to a massive early lead, Penn basketball regressed substantially over the game’s final 30 minutes en route to a 69-59 loss to Harvard Friday night. With the defeat, the Red and Blue (7-10) drop to 0-4 in Ivy play.
Despite having not played a game in over a week, the Quakers came out firing on all cylinders. Fueled by excellent play from senior forward Matt Howard and junior guard Caleb Wood, Penn sprang to leads of 11-0, 19-4 and 25-14. The early success, though, was fueled largely by unsustainably high field goal percentage; the Quakers made eight of their first ten shots.
“We weren’t tired. Most teams in college basketball have a lot more games,” Penn coach Steve Donahue noted. “The guys were excited; the guys were confident.”
As the Crimson (12-6, 4-1 Ivy) settled in, though, the lead quickly dwindled. Fueled by Penn turnovers and occasionally questionable Penn shot selection (a extremely deep missed three by freshman guard Ryan Betley with 15 seconds remaining on the shot clock being the clearest example) Harvard began to assert itself. The Crimson went on a 18-6 run during one six-minute stretch and went into halftime down just 37-34.
In the game’s second half, Penn’s shooting went frigid, as the Quakers shot just 20.7 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a 1-of-14 performance from beyond the arc.
Five different Crimson players scored in double figures, led by guard Siyani Chambers’ 13. The Quakers were actually quite efficient at slowing the fifth-year star, though, as Chambers shot just 3-of-11 from the field.
Turnovers proved to be the death knell for the Red and Blue; the Quakers turned the ball over 19 times, well above their season average of 12.9 per game.
Donahue, though, felt that that figure was well below what it could have been.
“They jumped passing lanes; that’s what they do. But to be honest with you, they didn’t jump as many as they typically do,” Donahue said of the Crimson defense. “We just didn’t take care of the basketball.”
A team-high six of those turnovers came from freshman forward AJ Brodeur. Fresh off scoring 35 points against La Salle on Jan. 25, the young star struggled all evening, scoring just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting while pulling down only five rebounds.
“In his defense, we rely on him so much,” Donahue said. “If he doesn’t score at times, we struggle.”
On Saturday, the Red and Blue will head to fellow conference-winless Dartmouth. A loss in Hanover would all but eliminate the Quakers from a berth in the inaugural Ivy League tournament; Tuesday’s home matchup versus rival Princeton is now also something of a must-win.
If Penn plays the way it did in the opening minutes of Friday’s game, it could very well start the long climb to one of the top four spots in the conference.
But if they continue the turnover-prone offense and cold shooting displayed for the majority of the contest, it will continue to be a disappointing Ivy season for the Quakers.
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