aj_brodeur
Photo: Zach Sheldon

Penn men’s basketball came ready to play, but in the end, the nation's No. 4 team was just too good.

Playing in the Big 5’s first-ever game in the Jake Nevin Field House, the Quakers couldn’t take advantage of an early lead, falling to Villanova 90-62. Villanova’s junior guard Jalen Brunson was the game’s high-scorer with 17 points, while sophomore forward AJ Brodeur led Penn with 15 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats (7-0, 1-0 Big 5) opened up the game’s scoring, but the Quakers (5-4, 0-2) didn’t look afraid of the moment in the game’s opening minutes. After a layup from sophomore guard Ryan Betley put Penn up 4-2, the Red and Blue kept things close over the ensuing possessions.

But after Penn took another lead at 11-9, Villanova responded with a 7-0 run to take a 16-11 lead into first media timeout. The run was punctuated by an emphatic one-handed dunk from Villanova redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, sending the packed-to-the-rafters crowd into hysterics.

From there, the Wildcats would not trail again, as they pushed their lead to as high as 30 points.

“There’s never been a team I coached or played against that’s smarter and tougher,” coach Steve Donahue said after the game.

Photo: Zach Sheldon

While the Red and Blue couldn’t pull off the monumental upset, several players proved they could more than hold their own against top competition. Senior guard Darnell Foreman and Brodeur were particularly impressive. 

After scoring eight points in the opening frame, Foreman took control of the Quakers’ offense in the early stretches of the second half. His tough and-one layup with just under 13 minutes left in the game momentarily brought Villanova’s lead under 20.

While Brodeur was held to just eight shot attempts, the big man made the most of his limited touches. Brodeur’s 15 points came on only eight shots, as he shot 75 percent from both the field and the free throw line.

Betley also made the most of what was a rough shooting night for him. After scoring five of Penn’s first seven points, the three-point specialist went cold down the stretch of the first half. Betley rallied in the second half, though, as he knocked down two more treys from distance to finish the game in double digits with 11 points.

“I just think we kind of beat ourselves,” Betley said. “Obviously they’re a great team, but we have so much we need to improve on that we’re not as concerned about what they’re doing as we are about what we have to do.”

Perhaps the most impressive takeaway from the game for Penn, though, was the team’s rebounding. The Quakers actually out-rebounded Villanova 33-32 and limited the opposing bigs to just one offensive rebound. In addition to Brodeur’s seven boards, Betley was a solid force on the glass with eight rebounds of his own.

While the rebounding allowed the Red and Blue to put up just as many shot attempts as their opponents, the biggest difference in the game came from the two teams’ shot-making. The 2016 national championships shot 57 percent on 58 field goal attempts, while Penn made just 41 percent of its own shots.

The loss gave Penn its second Big 5 loss of the season in as many tries, while Villanova extended it’s mind-blowing 19 game win-streak against Big 5 competition.

“I do feel that we want to end that streak,” Donahue said. “There’s no doubt."

Penn's next game will come on the road once again as the team will travel to our nation's capital to square off against Howard on Monday.

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.