FORT MYERS, FLA. — From coast to coast, Penn men’s basketball dominated every inch of the floor in its tournament-opening victory over Northern Illinois University at the Gulf Coast Showcase.
The Quakers opened up a huge gap early and never looked back in a 93-80 demolition of the Huskies on the first day of its Thanksgiving vacation series, an eight-team tournament comprised of mid-majors from across the NCAA.
Powering Penn (3-2) on Monday night, junior captain Max Rothschild put up an all-star performance on both ends of the court. The big scored 22 points and brought down a dozen rebounds — both of which were career highs — to secure his second double-double of the season within five minutes of the start of the second half.
It was Rothschild and fellow forward AJ Brodeur who got the ball rolling from the start. The Quakers’ starting frontcourt duo scored 10 of the team’s first 12 points, consistently dishing to each other for easy buckets in the paint. Rothschild had five assists on the night to Brodeur’s four — the most of which were for each other.
“[Rothschild] was terrific,” coach Steve Donahue said. “It’s been a huge difference for our team, on offense and on defense, having them both out there.”
Donahue praised his two bigs more by giving them credit for executing their game plan, citing a mismatch they identified before the game that they sought to exploit early on.
Penn punished NIU (2-1) for the first six and a half minutes, driving its lead up to 25-6 before the Huskies were able to put any semblance of a run together.
“I thought we came out really ready to play,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Offensively and defensively in the first half, I thought we really played to the game plan.”
The plan worked to the tee. After dominating in the paint for the first ten minutes, the Quakers then looked to a new high-impact bench player in Caleb Wood to start raining it in from deep.
Wood scored 16 big points on the night, efficiently going 4-for-7 from behind the arc. Whenever Brodeur — who put up 25 points of his own — and Rothschild began to slow down or get triple-teamed, Wood would pop up from three with a dagger.
“He’s a silent assassin,” Rothschild said of the shooting guard. “His [three-point] percentage has been crazy. We love having him out there. I love having him out there. He stretches the defence — he’s been a huge part of what we’re doing.”
After the first few minutes of the game, the Huskies never brought Penn’s lead back to single digits. Even though they got close, they never threatened to truly test the Quakers’ resolve.
Penn advances to face Towson on Tuesday night at 7:30pm. A win in the second round would advance the Red and Blue to the Showcase final on Wednesday.
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