Put the funeral pyres away — Penn men’s basketball is back.
Boosted by a ridiculous 27-2 first-half run spearheaded by a career-best shooting performance from freshman shooting guard Ryan Betley, the Quakers jumped out to a 25-point first-half lead at Brown and never looked back, cruising to a 96-72 win over the Bears.
“We’re getting used to playing a little fast and moving the ball, starting to build the confidence and not grinding it on offense; there’s a sense of ‘we’re guarding really well,’ and then on the offensive end, we’re starting to play like I think we can,” coach Steve Donahue said. “We’re not there yet, but that’s a lot more the pace we want to play at and the energy … I think the guys are getting better.”
Maybe it wasn’t reasonable for the Quakers (10-12, 3-6 Ivy) to fully replicate the unheard of 42-14 first-half score from last Sunday’s win over Cornell, but Betley and his classmates made sure their squad would come as close as possible.
Picking up right where he left off during Sunday’s career-high 22-point performance, Betley’s smooth stroke from beyond the arc helped him score ten of his team’s first 17 points, bringing Penn out to an early 17-8 lead in the pivotal conference contest.
“After seeing the first one or two threes go in, it just boosts your confidence,” said Betley, who missed the team’s first nine games due to a broken hand. “My teammates kept finding me in open spots, made it real easy for me to keep knocking shots down.”
Behind the strong efforts of senior forward Steven Spieth, the Bears (11-14, 2-7) briefly clawed back to tie the score at 25 apiece. But just when it seemed that Brown was ready to make this a ballgame, coach Steve Donahue’s esteemed freshmen class stepped up and calmly put the Bears to bed.
With Betley joined on the floor by classmates Devon Goodman and AJ Brodeur, the Class of 2020 wasted no time making its mark in Providence. Spearheaded by Betley’s absurd jump shooting, Goodman’s slashing ability and the strong defensive presence in the paint from Brodeur, the Red and Blue absolutely dominated the final seven and a half minutes of the opening half to put the game away early.
Overall, the three freshmen combined for 22 of the team’s points during the aforementioned 27-2 stretch, putting the Ivy League on notice that the Quakers’ young blood is ready to make an impact right now.
“You know, it just shows that as a class, we’re a very good class, and it proves that we deserve to be on the floor,” Betley said. “We have some ability to score and make things happen.”
After dropping 23 first-half points including five three-pointers, Betley couldn’t quite do the same in the second frame — but fortunately for the Quakers, their lead was gaudy enough to the point where he didn’t need to.
Though Spieth continued to dominate offensively en route to a team-high 26 points on the evening, the Brown deficit never got smaller than sixteen points.
Senior captain Matt Howard used his notorious slashing ability to score nine of his 11 points in the second half, while sophomore guard Jackson Donahue hit a trio of three-pointers in the frame en route to a total of six treys on the night — tying Betley for the game’s lead — as Penn was able to coast down the stretch to a surprisingly comfortable 24-point win.
“We have so much to prove right now, starting off 0-6 was hard for all of us, and I think we finally figured out how to turn that anger into a competitive, mature nature on the court,” Jackson Donahue said. “Personally, I’ve been in a bit of a slump lately, and once I saw that first one go down, once they started falling for me, I just got so pumped.”
Overall, the Quakers ended up with five players in double figures, led by Betley’s new career-high of 28 points and Donahue’s 20. The team’s offensive outburst represented its finest scoring output in more than 11 years, as Penn last broke 96 points against a Division I team in a January 2006 win over Lafayette.
Now on a three-game Ivy win streak, the Red and Blue appear to have risen from the dead in the conference tournament race. Combined with Columbia’s loss to Harvard, the Red and Blue now find themselves a single game out of the top-four spot necessary for entry to the inaugural Ivy League tournament — a situation that appeared impossible when they were left for dead at 0-6 in conference play only days ago.
Next up on Sunday, the squad will head to Yale (14-8, 6-3) on Sunday. And though the Quakers have some major momentum as they embark on their unprecedented rags to riches journey, it’s clear that within the Red and Blue locker room, players and coaches know they haven’t earned anything yet.
“I like that we think we’re still an 0-6 team; that mentality that we don’t even deserve to think of playoffs or anything like that until we play what I consider to be Penn basketball,” Steve Donahue said. “We’re going up there for a fight on Sunday, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”