For the second straight night, Penn took care of business at the Palestra, marching to a 59-50 win over Yale.
After surviving a scare from Brown (10-9, 3-3 Ivy) in Friday night’s overtime win, the Quakers (15-6, 5-0) had little trouble keeping the Bulldogs (9-13, 2-4) at arms length for most of the night.
Fueled by stingy defense and phenomenal offensive play in the paint, Penn jumped out to an early lead, which they never relinquished on their way to a 59-50 victory.
Their interior offense was especially vital because for much of the night, the Red and Blue couldn’t buy a three. They started just one of eleven from beyond the arc, but two quick triples from sophomore Ryan Betley and senior Caleb Wood to start the second half helped Penn begin to find its stroke.
It wasn’t until the middle of the second half when Penn began to feel pressure from Yale. The Elis scored a putback with 11:20 left to scrape within one possession, but then Jake Silpe quickly put Yale’s momentum to rest.
The junior point guard from Cherry Hill, N.J. ignited the crowed with two straight three-pointers. Betley followed with a fancy drive and finger role to stretch the lead to eleven with nine minutes left, and from there the Quakers were cruising.
Silpe was only on the floor for six minutes, but his tenacity on defense and timely shooting were just what Penn needed to jumpstart its offense.
“The reason he’s playing is because he carved himself a role,” coach Steve Donahue said about the scrappy guard.
“It’s not the coach making the decisions. In all honesty, he made the decision,” Donahue continued. “He never hung his head, he asked what does he need to do to get better.”
From the time of Silpe’s first triple, until there were four minutes left in the game, the Quakers held the Bulldogs scoreless, forcing bad shots and securing nearly every loose rebound.
Yale would still have one more punch left in them though.
The atmosphere quickly went from comfortable to worrisome at the very end of regulation when Yale pulled back within five with under a minute to play. A missed free throw by Betley gave Yale a tiny glimmer of hope, with the chance to go two for one to end the game.
But Betley made up for the miss with a clutch defensive play on the other end to force a Yale turnover. Caleb Wood finished the job by hitting a pair from the stripe, to squash the Elis’ upset bid.
“It’s different this year,” Betley, who scored twelve points on the night, said of the team’s late game calmness.
“Last year I feel like we might have crumbled, but this year I was confident the entire time,” Betley continued. “Sometimes we make it scary, but I think within our team we’re very poised this year and we understand what we have to do to close it out.”
Sophomore star AJ Brodeur embodied that confident demeanor all night.
The big man had trouble finding the basket throughout the game, scoring his first bucket with under five minutes left in the game, but his influence was felt on the glass and on defense. At one point, he grabbed a steal and then blocked a shot on consecutive possessions. Then, moments later, he took a charge to force another turnover.
Brodeur’s defensive presence proved to be plenty, as his teammates picked up the slack on offense. Four Quakers finished in double figures, accounting for a combined 49 of Penn’s 59 points. Caleb Wood led all scorers with fourteen while juniors Antonio Woods and Max Rothschild contributed with double digit stat lines of their own.
Following the offensive fueled nail biter against Brown the night before, points were at a premium, but the Quakers showed no signs of fatigue as they marched to their fifth conference win of the season.
At this point last year Penn was 0-6 in Ivy play. The team has gone 11-2 in Ancient Eight play since, and sits atop the league with the conference’s only perfect record.
A quick turnaround will challenge the Quakers when they travel to Princeton on Tuesday, and they still have to play second place Harvard twice. But, at this point in the season, the Quakers have the pole position in the league title race.
This group is sharp, and Penn looks poised to be playing a couple extra home games come March, when the Ivy League tournament comes to town.
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