Win and we’re in.
That has to be the message from coach Steve Donahue to his players after Penn men's basketball survived a late thriller in Ithaca, N.Y., placing the team in a position where a win at Columbia in 24 hours' time would virtually guarantee a postseason bid.
Behind a superb all-around performance from freshman Ryan Betley, Penn overcame a series of Cornell runs to win 69-66 in a game that came down to the final seconds.
The Quakers (12-12, 5-6 Ivy), as they have been known to do recently, started the game out strong, opening up a 7-2 lead in the opening minutes. Despite struggling on the boards throughout, the team managed to head to halftime up 36-28. Most of this lead can be attributed to the sensational shooting of Betley, who scored 13 of his team-high 21 points in the opening half.
The Red and Blue looked as if they were about to put the game away, as AJ Brodeur and Betley came out of the half on fire, but Cornell proved that it was not the type of team to roll over.
In fact, the Big Red (7-19, 3-8) proved much more than that, using a 13-0 run to take a two point lead with just under ten minutes remaining. That lead would extend to four just before the seven minute mark. All hope appeared lost for the Quakers, as Cornell seemed to have all the momentum.
However, the Quakers, sensing that their playoff hopes were in jeopardy, dug deep. Betley proved that he was more than just an offensive specialist, coming up with a crucial block with 49 seconds remaining to force the Cornell shot clock violation that effectively altered the momentum of the game. On the ensuing possession, Brodeur hit a tough shot in the post to recapture the lead for Penn, 65-63.
From that point onward, Penn’s free throw shooting prevailed in a way it hadn’t all season, with Betley and junior Darnell Foreman each knocking down both of their attempts to seal the game.
Although it wasn’t necessarily the prettiest or most seamless game for a Penn squad that has been running over opponents recently, its merits as an important and gritty road victory are indisputable.
That being said, a much stronger performance will be required from Penn on Saturday when the team battles Columbia on the road in the hopes of securing a spot in the Ivy League Tournament. A win would all-but guarantee Penn at least the fourth-place spot, with the potential to go even further in pursuit of Yale's current No. 3 seed.
All of the Ivy League will be watching on Saturday. Win, and Penn is in.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.