Pressure bursts pipes, but it can also make diamonds.
Penn men’s basketball had a diamond weekend against Columbia and Cornell, winning its first two Ivy League games of the season under immense pressure. The pressure was both expected and self-imposed; the result of an 0-6 run bookended by twin loses to rival Princeton. The Quakers (9-12, 2-6 Ivy) knew that another loss meant the end to their post-season chances, and they responded with two of the most spirited performances to date.
“I think in the last week and a half we turned up our intensity on both sides of the ball. [We have a] sense of urgency,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I thought our poise [and] confidence [were] better.”
Donahue also suggested that the turnaround could be explained by a shift in personnel.
The rotations early in the season were inconsistent to say the least, with nine players having reached the starting lineup and seven averaging 15 minutes a game. In particular, Matt MacDonald, Caleb Wood, Jackson Donahue, Sam Jones and Devon Goodman have played considerable minutes, but seemingly not enough to get into a rhythm.
It makes sense that this should be the case more often in the Ivy League, where teams may be more careful to limit minutes logged by the stars to preserve them for the second game in the back-to-back Ivy weekends.
However, Donahue claims that he never rested his players for future games, choosing instead to play “whoever was going to help us win.” Donahue instead attributes the inconsistent lineups to inconsistent performances from his players, and an attempt to ride the hot hand.
One of the most affected by this strategy was guard Devon Goodman. While he failed to see the court early in the season, the freshman has been a big contributor of late, scoring 22 points over the weekend and logging 53 minutes.
Goodman’s speed and playmaking abilities have allowed the Quakers to have two natural point guards on the floor at the same time when Goodman joins junior Darnell Foreman. For his part, Goodman doesn’t think the lack of minutes early has hurt his play.
“I think that coach has been trying to find a core group of guys that can contribute to the team and find that right lineup,” he said.
If the last two games are any indication, the lineup that Donahue has settled on includes three freshman contributors. Along with leading scorer AJ Brodeur and Goodman, guard Ryan Betley has earned increased minutes, especially after his 22-point performance against Cornell. The casualties of the freshman insurgence have been junior guards Caleb Wood and Matt MacDonald, both of whom failed to see the court last weekend.
This weekend Penn looks to continue its resurgence and avenge early season losses to Brown and Yale. Yale (14-7, 6-2) in particular has proven to be a tough foe, currently sitting comfortably at third in the conference. The last meeting between the two teams ended poorly for the Quakers, especially on the glass, where they were outrebounded 42-31.
“[Rebounding] is something Yale does well... We didn’t do as bad as the raw numbers indicated. We got to do a good job on the glass whoever we play,” Donahue said. “Yale is one of the few teams in this league that plays two traditional bigs.”
Expect to see both Brodeur and sophomore Max Rothschild on the court at the same time to combat Yale’s size. That said, the best way to prevent the other team from rebounding is to make your shots.
The Quakers’ shooting could still stand to improve, especially from the free throw line, where the Quakers make a conference-low 64%. As the stretch run continues, the Quakers will undoubtedly find themselves in close games (at best), including this weekend. If Penn wants to escape the late-season road trips with wins they will have to improve from the charity stripe.
For all the reminders of the previous meetings with Yale and Brown, the Quakers have an entirely new look. The Quakers know the pressure is back on. Their new mentality and refocused lineup will have to maintain the energy and desperation of last weekend. It’s time for the Quakers to prove that last weekend wasn’t a fluke, and for us to find out whether the team is made of diamonds or pipes.
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