nwokedii

With frontcourt teammate Sydney Stipanovich hampered by an ankle injury, junior forward Michelle Nwokedi put Penn women's basketball on her back with 21 points to will the team to a crazy 71-68 win at Brown.

Photo: Zach Sheldon / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Well, that was a nail-biter.

It went right down to the wire for Penn women’s basketball, who stayed perfect in the Ivy League with a 71-68 win over Brown on Friday night. The Quakers (15-6, 8-0 Ivy) only sealed the deal in the final minute of the game, however, in what was their toughest conference game yet.

Down all game, it took the reigning Ivy League champions until the end of the third quarter to finally take the lead. The switch happened when junior guard Anna Ross converted an emphatic and-one to put Penn up 50-49 with just under 11 minutes left in the game.

But that didn’t mean it was over. With practically every possession there was a lead change going right down to the wire, putting the Quakers to the test like never before this Ivy season.

Traveling fans’ hearts seemed to be skipping beats with every twist and turn. One possession the Quakers’ parents and alumni would be cheering their hearts out; the next, they’d be yelling and virtually pulling their hair out.

“These girls have been there before,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “Some of these girls have won a lot of tough games. We tried to stay the course, possession by possession, but we just had to get better at what we were. We had to get control of the game on the defensive end.”

Letting up 68 points is not something McLaughlin’s squad has done since the very first game of the season over three months ago, when they let up 68 against nationally-ranked Duke. But finally, the Quakers were able to get the control defensively they needed with just two minutes remaining, including a pair of key stops in the final minute that allowed the visitors to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

One player Penn could not have lived without at Brown was junior Michelle Nwokedi. The star forward kept her team in the game all night, scoring 21 points and giving five assists in the process. It was her composure in the second and third quarters of the contest that enabled the Quakers to slowly carve out Brown’s large lead.

“I thought she was really good. When we were struggling, she found us a way to get us an offensive rebound. I thought Michelle was as good as we’ve had her in a while — especially in the second, third, fourth quarters.”

Nwokedi registered 11 rebounds, mostly in the first second and third quarters. Seven of those were on the offensive end, allowing the Red and Blue a number of second-chance opportunities.

Rebounding was a key all night for Penn, who relied on dominance on the boards to whittle away at Brown’s large early lead. The Quakers brought down 45 rebounds to Brown’s 33 — including 20 on the offensive end to the Bears’ seven.

“The coaches just told us to go up for the boards. There were so many opportunities,” Nwokedi said. “That was how we were able to get back into the game: crashing the boards and getting those extra opportunities.”

Brown (14-8, 5-4) came out lightning quick in the first quarter, shooting efficiently and often. The pace was electric, too, as the charge was led by the Bears’ talented underclassmen — freshmen and sophomores accounted for the host's first 26 points, and all but four of the team’s 39 in the first half.

“Give Brown credit — they kept us off on the defensive end right from the start of the game,” McLaughlin said. “They definitely put us on our heels.”

“I really don’t know [what happened],” Nwokedi echoed. “We came out too loose, especially it being a road game. You don’t have your home fans, or everyone around you...but we were able to stick together, and fight to the end.”

Despite going down 28-13 after just ten minutes of play, though, McLaughlin’s team worked their way steadily back into the game. After managing to slow the pace down to their liking, the Quakers then grinded out points until they finally tied it up at 46.

“100 percent” it was the most composed performance of the season, Ross said. “We stayed together, we rallied, and there was no point where we were like, ‘Oh my God,’ so I really commend everyone. We stayed in it.”

By staying in it til the end, the Quakers’ kept their dream of a perfect conference season alive. With just six games left until the Ivy League tournament, the Red and Blue has a firm grip on the top of the standings and shows no signs of letting up.

They’ll stay in it 'til the very end.

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