Everything looks better from above .500.
Penn men’s basketball topped visiting Fairfield, 74-68, today in its second and final winter break home matchup. Freshman AJ Brodeur led the Quakers to a hard-fought victory with a career-high 27 points.
“It's good to get on a roll,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said following the game. “It kind of verifies all the stuff we've been talking about in practice. Working hard, especially.”
Things looked bleak for Penn (6-5) for most of the first half, though. Early on, the Red and Blue just couldn’t get anything to fall. Missing their first 11 three-point attempts, the Quakers struggled to keep up with the Stags, who held onto the lead from the fourth minute of play through the end of the first half.
On the other hand, the first half was an opportunity for Penn to prove that it was more than just a run-and-gun team.
"Overall it's been the grittiness on the defensive side of the ball that's been really consistent for us," Donahue said. “Jackson [Donahue] is just one of our better understanding players of what we're trying to do on both offense and defense.”
Penn’s defense was especially effective in holding Fairfield’s dangerous shooters to only 34 percent from the field (compared to Penn’s 49 percent).
Such a strong effort was especially vital in this game, as Fairfield (6-5) brought along some potent offensive threats. The Stags' Amadou Sidibe dominated the boards with 14 rebounds, six on the offensive glass, and Tyler Nelson only sat out four minutes all game en route to putting up 21 points on the afternoon with a stellar 5-for-10 mark from beyond the arc.
But once Penn found its offensive rhythm, it was unstoppable. The momentum began to change in the Quakers' favor with five minutes remaining in the first half of play. An easy finish off a nifty flip to Caleb Wood from Matt Howard was just another instance of the Quakers’ superior vision and ball movement this game – Penn chalked up twice as many assists as Fairfield – that stoked the crowd’s energy.
The following play, sophomore forward Max Rothschild prodded the ball away from Fairfield’s Jerome Segura and scored on the fast break after pumping the breaks at the last second to throw off his defender. Wood hit a big three within the same minute, and just like that Penn was back in it. At the half, it was a one-point game.
As the team exited the locker room, it was clear that the Quakers were hungry to take what was theirs. And while Fairfield clung to its lead for the first few minutes of the second half, it was about time for “The Brodeur & Howard Show” to begin.
Brodeur, the rookie, started off the half demonstrating his mid-range prowess with an early jumper, and then with a confident three-pointer with 16 minutes to go.
Not to be outdone, Howard knocked down a three of his own soon after, pulling Penn into the lead. As if that weren’t enough, Howard immediately snagged a defensive rebound to put the ball back in Penn's hands and concluded the possession with a jaw-dropping, wide-open, two-handed slam-dunk. The assist went to none other than Brodeur, and the nascent chemistry between the freshman and senior bodes well for upcoming Ivy play.
Penn kept the lead for the rest of the game.
Though it may have taken some time for the Quakers to get their bearings at the start of this matchup, the team as a whole put on an impressive performance. Furthermore, the Red and Blue looked cool, calm and collected in the driver’s seat of the game’s second half. And with Brodeur’s 27 points setting not only a new personal best but also making him the team's leading single-game scorer this season, Steve Donahue was optimistic after tonight’s outcome.
“[Brodeur] is hard to guard. You start playing up on him and he can go right by you. You back off, and he can make shots.” he said. “I'm just proud of the team. It was a great team effort, and they're all into it. The bench was incredible, and we've got the culture going the way that we want it. Now we just need everyone to continue to get better and have some growth in our program heading into the Ivy [season].”
The win, which follows the defeat of Drexel two days ago and of the University of Central Florida on the road earlier this month, marks the end of non-conference play for the Red and Blue. Opening up league play with a bang, a trip up to rival Princeton (6-6) is scheduled for next week.
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