EASTON, Pa. — For the first six minutes of Wednesday’s contest against Lafayette, most of Penn men’s basketball couldn’t buy a bucket and sophomore forward AJ Brodeur couldn’t be stopped — until he couldn’t buy a bucket himself.
But when the going got tough for Brodeur, his teammates stepped up.
Playing away from the Palestra for the seventh straight game, Penn survived a streaky shooting night to defeat Lafayette 73-68 and earn its second victory in three nights.
The Quakers (7-4) were led in scoring by sophomore guard Ryan Betley and Brodeur, who both finished with 16 points. Brodeur hit his first five shots of the game to score the Quakers' first ten points of the game, before going on to miss his next seven shots. He scored his final six points of the night in the game’s final ten minutes and Betley hit two free throws with 21 seconds left to extend Penn’s lead to four and put the game out of reach for the Leopards (1-7).
“I thought inside-out was the key all night,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said after the game.
“They had a hard time guarding us inside.”
As hot as Brodeur’s start was, poor shooting from the rest of the Red and Blue allowed Lafayette to stay in the game early. It wasn’t until nearly nine minutes had elapsed when Penn’s first player not named Brodeur got on the board off a pull-up jumper from senior Caleb Wood. Up until that point, Brodeur was 5-for-6 from the field and the rest of the team was a combined 0-for-9.
The Quakers’ shooting improved modestly over the final eleven minutes of the half, but going into the break, Penn was still only shooting 40 percent on field goals and 21 percent on threes.
But while Penn struggled to get the ball in the hoop efficiently, the team’s defense held Lafayette to only 24 points and allowed the Quakers to build a nine-point lead at halftime. The Leopards managed to make only 10 field goals in the game’s opening frame.
“Our defense has been pretty solid all year guarding the three, and I thought we did that tonight,” Donahue said.
In the second half, the Red and Blue fended off several runs, but the Leopards never got closer than they did in the game’s final minute. Lafayette was able to pull within two points after Penn senior guard Darnell Foreman missed the front-end of a one and one with 32 seconds left and the Quakers nursing a 70-66 lead.
But after Lafayette’s Justin Jaworski's quick layup with 22 seconds left brought Penn’s lead to just one possession, Betley responded at the charity stripe with his two biggest points of the night.
After Betley’s free throws put the Red and Blue up four again, Lafayette missed a three-point attempt on its ensuing possession and Penn junior guard Antonio Woods hit one of two free throws to give the game its final score.
With the win, the Quakers are off to their best eleven-game start since the 2002-2003 season. That year, Penn finished undefeated in the Ivy League on its way to an NCAA Tournament berth — still its most recent 14-0 finish in conference play. The Red and Blue went on to make the Big Dance three of the next four seasons, but haven’t returned to March Madness again since the 2006-2007 season.
Looking ahead, Penn’s eight-game road swing will reach its end on Saturday when the Quakers travel east to take on Dayton. The Flyers currently sit at 4-4, but have made the NCAA Tournament each of the last four years.
“It’s a lot, but we love to play as much basketball as we can. That’s what we signed up for, that’s what we expected,” Brodeur said. “Personally, I’m loving it.”
After Saturday’s game, Penn will have over two weeks off for finals and the holidays before returning to the Palestra on December 27. The Quakers will wrap up 2017 with two final tune-ups against Delaware State and Toledo before Ivy play starts on January 5 against rival Princeton.
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