What a difference the home floor makes.
Only two weeks after Penn men’s basketball barely eked out a 64-61 win at last-place Dartmouth, the Quakers looked like an entirely different team in the rematch at the Palestra. Starting on a 9-0 run and never looking back from there, the Red and Blue dominated from start to finish in a 74-46 blowout to remain in a first-place tie in the Ivy League standings.
“I thought tonight kind of exemplified our season, in the sense that we got our defense going early, kept it going the whole game, and our offense started to click a little more and share it better,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Just real proud of our effort — we were locked in the whole night, and got contributions from everyone.”
As has been the case all season long, the Penn (20-7, 10-1) offense was defined by unselfishness, with the Quakers’ true team basketball making the Big Green look lost defensively time and time again. In the first half alone, six different Quakers scored at least four points, and Penn assisted on nine of its 13 field goals, allowing Penn to take a 20-point lead into the break.
“That’s just the premise of our offense, sharing the ball and getting the best look possible,” sophomore guard Ryan Betley, who led Penn with 12 points, said. “When the guy is open, we’ll find him, and it doesn’t matter who’s scoring out there — we’re just gonna find the open player, and that’s what happens.”
But as strong as Penn’s ability to share the ball was, it was the way that the Quakers shutdown Dartmouth (6-18, 2-9) that proved even more impressive. Playing their notoriously physical brand of man defense throughout the night, the Red and Blue made sure nothing would come easy for the Big Green.
Though Dartmouth freshman forward Chris Knight impressed with 15 points on the evening, the Big Green couldn’t get anything else going. Early in the first half, Penn held Dartmouth to a 6:30 stretch without a made field goal.
And entering the night ranked third in the Ivy League with a 36.7 three-point percentage, Dartmouth was held to a comical 0-for-17 performance from beyond the arc — only five misses short of tying the all-time Division I record for downtown misses without a make.
“What we’ve done on defense, and guarding the three — I haven’t had a team like this, ever,” Donahue said. “Never had a team that ‘does both’ as I like to say, they guard penetration yet they don’t give up easy drive-and-kicks. … Dartmouth is a good three-point shooting team, and I’m just really kind of amazed at how it’s gone.”
On both sides of the ball, the theme for Penn all night long was balance. On a team where no player averages more than 15 points, the Quakers’ success has always been about each person being willing to fulfill his role on any given night. For Donahue, who has won a total of eight Ivy League championships as a head or assistant coach, this team-first attitude might be the key to securing number nine.
“Our leading scorer [AJ Broder] went 2 for 10 and had six points, and we had our point guard [Darnell Foreman] go for no points but 11 rebounds. We just figure out ways to compete night in and night out,” Donahue said. “We do whatever it takes, and that’s one of the things that jumps out.”
Penn’s next task will be a lot tougher, with the Quakers hosting Harvard (15-11, 10-1) in a battle for first place. The last time these two played, Harvard center Chris Lewis dominated Penn to the tune of 25 points, but with the Quakers holding home court in the rematch, confidence is high entering a game that will almost surely determine the Ivy League regular season champion.
“We’re gonna prepare, and one thing I know is these guys will be locked in to whatever plan we have,” Donahue said. “They’ll play as hard as they can. And if that’s good enough, great.”
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