The Quakers passed one test this weekend, but could have used a curve on the second.
Penn basketball topped Brown by a score of 79-74 on Friday night at the Palestra before falling, 79-58, to first-place Yale on Saturday. The Red and Blue (10-13, 4-5 Ivy) were trying to get their conference record above .500 for the first time this season with a weekend sweep.
Against Brown (7-17, 2-8), Penn managed to contain Brown standouts Cedric Kuakumensah, Tavon Blackmon and Steven Spieth — brother of superstar golfer Jordan — to just 33 points combined after the Bears trio totaled 68 points in Brown’s 89-83 victory over the Quakers on Jan. 30.
Darien Nelson-Henry led the Quakers to the victory with 19 points, and the senior center was aided by sophomore Sam Jones and freshman Jackson Donahue who each drilled five three-pointers.
“We made some shots that were really important,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said, also praising the performance of sophomore guard Darnell Foreman, who came within two rebounds of a triple-double and hit nine of ten free throws.
“Darnell did all the little things,” he added. “Down the stretch, there’s nobody I’d rather have on the foul line.”
But the second matchup wouldn’t be so easy.
The Quakers hung with the Bulldogs (18-6, 9-1) for much of the game. A tight first half that ended with Yale up, 37-32, was followed by a back-and-forth start to the second half, but Yale managed to keep Penn at arm’s length before pulling away as the teams hit the stretch.
“I was really pleased in a lot of ways with our effort for 25, 30 minutes. But they’re such a good, physical basketball team,” Donahue said. “I thought we probably lost our legs a bit, we missed a lot of shots that we made in the first half, that we’d been making recently. When you play a team of this caliber, when you get an open look, you gotta make it.”
The Red and Blue certainly didn’t make good on many of those looks, shooting just 3-for-18 from beyond the arc. Most of what little offense Penn found was provided by Nelson-Henry and junior Matt Howard, as the upperclassman duo combined for 31 points.
Yale’s top gun, however, matched that total on his own: Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Justin Sears had 31 points to tie his career high and added nine rebounds in his final matchup against the Red and Blue.
“They play some shooters. For Sam Jones, it’s hard for him to guard our guys at the basket,” Yale coach James Jones said. “So they mix it up and put Howard on Justin, which is an advantage for Justin. [Howard] is a big, strong kid, but he’s not a post player.”
The Quakers had a chance to grab control of the game, but didn’t seize it, and Yale made them pay. After Penn cut it to 39-37 with 18:10 to go in the game, neither team scored for nearly three minutes as the Red and Blue squandered several opportunities to tie or take the lead. Donahue conceded that the failure to score when Yale went cold likely cost the Quakers whatever chance they may have had of pulling off the upset.
“I think it did,” he said. “I thought it came to a grind. I thought we went inside out, we reacted to what they were trying to do, got open shots. We were probably a little gassed, to be honest with you. We had to put some full court pressure on then, limit them from three, and we did all that, but at the time, it took a toll on us. Mental and physical fatigue set in, and now you have open shots where we just don’t have our legs with us.”
With 13:22 to go, the score was still just 43-41 Bulldogs, but the Quakers’ luck ran out and Yale ran away with the game, rattling off a 12-2 run that turned a battle into a blowout.
The visitors eventually went up by more than 20, prompting Donahue to put in his bench for the final moments of the game.
The Red and Blue played hard until the final whistle, with senior Jamal Lewis and freshmen Tyler Hamilton and Colin McManus making impressive plays on both ends, including a heads-up play from Hamilton in which the first-year guard came up with a steal and, as his momentum carried him out of bounds, threw a ball off of a Yale player to secure an extra possession that resulted in a McManus bucket. The final minute had no bearing on the final result, but it did not go unnoticed by Donahue.
“I thought we competed for 40 minutes, and some people may not think that’s a big thing, but that’s a coaching thing,” he said. “And we try to — we call them bricks, we try to get three stops in a row, and we call them bricks. I challenged those guys at the end to do that, and I thought they really competed.
“That’s how you get better, that’s how we’re going to build this into a championship program, believe it or not. We don’t quit, we don’t take anything for granted.”Comments powered by Disqus
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