When Penn men’s basketball agonizingly came up one point short of hitting 100, and subsequently earning free Abner’s cheesesteaks for the entire Palestra crowd, against Penn State Brandywine in November, coach Steve Donahue made a prescient vow after learning of the promotional opportunity: “”
He didn’t say the Quakers would do so in their first opportunity.
In Penn’s first home game in 39 days — and first game at all in 18 days — the Red and Blue showed absolutely no signs of rust against non-conference foe Delaware State. Boosted by an incredible 51.9 percent effort from three-point range, the Quakers set the school record for margin of victory against a Division I opponent, blowing out the Hornets, 105-52, for their fourth straight win.
“I think rest is always better than trying to rush games and get them in over finals; we just made sure we were very competitive when we got in the gym [for practices]," Donahue said. “I thought we’d be ready to go, and we were.”
Ranked 349th out of 351 D-I teams in the Pomeroy rankings entering the night, DSU (2-13) was going to be a heavy underdog the whole way. But the Hornets missing their top two scorers in Kobe Gantz and Simon Okolue didn’t help matters. And the mismatch was clear from the onset, as Penn’s notoriously balanced offense picked apart the Hornets’ 2-3 zone with ease all night long.
With several long runs during the first half, buoyed by superb ball movement, Penn (9-4) made it clear that the outmatched Hornets had no chance at their first win over a D-I opponent all season. The Quakers assisted on 14 of their 19 first-half field goals, and seven different players scored at least five points in the opening period.
“I thought we came out with confidence; we’ve gone against the zone quite a bit this season, and we’ve got a couple of guys that are shooters that are playing really well,” Donahue said. “We’ve gotten comfortable playing against zone at this point, and it showed tonight.”
All in all, Penn combined to hit 9-for-16 from three-point range in the first half, with six players hitting at least one trey. Punctuated by a big one-handed jam by freshman forward Jarrod Simmons with two seconds left, the Red and Blue exploded to a 55-24 lead at the break.
“I think the key for me is just being patient out there,” Simmons, who led both teams with 12 points, told ESPN3. “Being a freshman, I can get sped up a little bit, and coach has been working with me to just slow down and be confident, and it worked out today.”
The result of the game was out of question as Penn’s starters were slowly taken out early in the second half, but there was still one major prize on the line: cheesesteaks. And this time, the Red and Blue wouldn’t go home empty-handed.
Though the Quakers’ bench couldn’t quite keep up the hot three-point shooting, the reserves made up for it by crushing the Hornets in transition, forcing 11 turnovers in the second period. Leading the way for the second unit was sophomore guard Devon Goodman, who tallied 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting in a mere 11 minutes.
But the hero of the night was the goat of the Quakers’ last chance at 100 in the Palestra: sophomore guard Ray Jerome.
Against PSU Brandywine, Jerome missed a wide-open dunk in transition with just over a minute remaining, which ended up being Penn's best chance at reaching the century mark.
But on Wednesday, in a stroke of poetic justice, Jerome atoned for his sin. With the Quakers sitting at 99 points, the sophomore pulled up from three-point range and connected for his first points of the season with three minutes remaining.
Besides the cheesesteaks, Wednesday was Penn’s first time hitting 100 points in a regulation game since a 105-73 win over Lafayette in January 2006. The game saw 15 different Quakers score, with five players in double figures — Woods, Simmons, and Goodman being joined by Max Rothschild and Caleb Wood. Penn notably also shot 84 percent from the free throw line, well above its paltry 62.1 percent average entering the night.
Most importantly, the win brings Penn’s record to its best 13-game start in 16 years, when the 2001-02 squad started 10-3 en route to an Ivy League championship.
Next up, things will get more difficult for the Red and Blue, as the amount of rest will shrink and the difficulty of opposition will rise. Penn hosts Toledo (7-5), which is averaging 77.7 points per game, on Friday afternoon.
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