Penn men’s basketball avoided a winless Big 5 season with a 67-56 win over Saint Joseph’s at the Palestra.
The game was a back-and-forth battle, with the Quakers (13-6, 1-3 Big 5) eventually closing out the Hawks (9-11, 0-3) with a dominant surge early in the second half, after going into halftime up by only three. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the game:
The Quakers play with intensity
The game was a physical, impassioned battle between the two Philadelphia rivals. It was clear that both teams badly wanted the victory, as neither had beaten a Big 5 opponent going into the game. Penn, coming off a tough loss against Temple last weekend, came out hard and was not afraid to play a tough defense.
This was especially evident after junior guard Antonio Woods and St. Joe’s center Pierfrancesco Oliva were assessed offsetting technical fouls following a fiery exchange after the whistle. Woods came back with purpose, hitting a three, playing tough defense to get a stop, and then immediately getting to the foul line.
After the disappointing end to last season, it appears that the team is back with a vengeance. Now that they’ve achieved a Big 5 win this season, and the first one over St. Joe’s in three years, the Quakers will look to ride that intensity into continuing their dominance of the Ivy League and return to the tournament — maybe even as favorites.
The game is won on the boards
Penn’s dual-big lineup allowed them to dominate on the boards with 51 total rebounds, the most they’ve pulled down in regulation all season. Most of their prowess came on the defensive end, where they allowed St. Joe’s only eight second-chance opportunities the whole game. The Hawks got more offensive rebounds when they played No. 1 Villanova earlier in the season.
It wasn’t just the Quakers’ two bigs that got in on the action, however. Every member of the team had at least one rebound, with all five starters pulling down six or more. Woods, who averages 3.4 rebounds on the season, put up nine rebounds.
The team’s prowess rebounding on the defensive end also had an impact on offense. The team excels offensively in transition, and scored many times in the first few seconds of the possession. This is only possible when wing players are confident that whoever is down low will scoop up the rebound.
If you had any doubts about Brodeur, they should be long gone
Sophomore forward AJ Brodeur had yet another incredible game, proving he can dominate in many phases and styles of the game. Brodeur put up a double-double, scoring 13 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, which is above his season average in both categories.
While he didn’t top his previous three-point shooting dominance, sinking only one of six from beyond the arc, he made an impact just about everywhere else, with three blocks, strong passing and even an emphatic dunk with seven seconds left to seal the deal.
The whole game, he was nearly unguardable from down low, where he was able to show a wide variety of post moves that many teams seem to have forgotten in basketball’s era of the stretch-big. Although offensive rebounding isn’t a strong suit of this team, he did have one spectacular show of potential in this area, grabbing two straight offensive boards to set up a Ryan Betley three.
His play all season has led to recognition from The Daily Pennsylvanian, the Ivy League, and, now, St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli.
“Villanova has the best players in the city, they have the most best players in the city, but if there was a pick-up game, Brodeur’s getting picked,” Martelli said. “All of us aren't gonna get a guy picked, but [Penn] would get him picked.”
This team has huge potential moving forward into the rest of Ivy play, and there’s no question that Brodeur will be a huge part of making that potential into a reality.
Don’t sleep on Penn’s bench
Basketball is a team sport, and the way that Penn plays absolutely exemplifies that. Although coach Steve Donahue has been sticking with the same starters all season, many bench players saw substantial time on the court and had a huge impact on the result of the game.
Notably, junior guard Jake Silpe and senior guard Caleb Wood came off the bench and played a crucial role in the Quakers’ victory. Wood scored 12 points and got three rebounds in his time on the court. His role in the game proved invaluable to the team, as he allowed the team to continue their scoring onslaught regardless of which guards were playing.
Likewise, Silpe, although he didn’t have the numbers that Wood had, was a vital part of the bench unit in this game, especially on defense. He’s an excellent communicator who helps bring the team together with his tough, physical, and aggressive defense.
On the whole, Penn’s bench players scored 19 points, as opposed to zero from the St. Joe’s bench. With an 11-point margin of victory, the consistent scoring from the Penn bench proved to be vital to the outcome.
Turnovers are a point of concern
Although the team was able to power through and get the win, it turned the ball over 15 times, as opposed to seven from St. Joe’s. On top of that, the Quakers' assist-to-turnover ratio was one of the worst all season.
If this was the first time this has happened, maybe it wouldn’t be such a cause for concern. But, we’ve been here before. Against Columbia two weeks ago, the team gave up 20 turnovers, nearly costing them what should have been an easy victory.
Most of the team’s turnovers come from misplaced passes and errors in communication. The bad news is that, if this team is prone to having games where it turns the ball over like crazy, it could cost it dearly in the high-stakes Ivy League tournament, where one loss will result in elimination.
The good news is that this team has all the pieces it needs for success, and has shown twice now that it can overcome turnovers and bad decisions because of all their strengths. If the Quakers work on their communication and ball security, then they have the talent to make a deep run into March.
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