It was perhaps the most quintessential trap game all season — but by the skin of its teeth, Penn men’s basketball escaped its potential snare.
Putting its undefeated Ivy League record on the line against last-place Dartmouth, the Red and Blue struggled throughout the night. But a tiebreaking bucket from AJ Brodeur in the last minute and a Max Rothschild steal on the Big Green’s last possession allowed the Quakers to hold on in a wild 64-61 win. With the victory, the Red and Blue hold an unblemished conference record halfway through Ivy League play, their first time doing so at the midway point in 12 seasons.
Though Penn (17-6, 7-0 Ivy) was heavily favored against the last-place Big Green, the Quakers looked to be in a bit of a Super Bowl hangover early, struggling in a matchup placed right between showdowns against Ivy League powers Princeton and Harvard.
While the Quakers, buoyed by Brodeur and Rothschild, led the Ivy League in rebounding margin entering the weekend, Dartmouth (4-16, 0-7) completely flipped the script early. The Big Green secured 10 offensive rebounds to Penn’s zero in the first half, and because of that, they led for the majority of the opening period despite shooting 8 for 37, before the Quakers closed on a 7-0 run to go up 27-24 into the break.
"I think part of it is they missed a ton of shots," coach Steve Donahue said. "We held them to 21 percent [shooting] in the first half."
A few times throughout the second half, Penn looked like it was finally ready to break away — perhaps none more so than when backup guard Jake Silpe hit three consecutive three-pointers in a span of two minutes, putting the Quakers up 46-40 midway through the half. But the Big Green would never lay flat, as all of Penn’s non-Silpe players went cold from beyond the arc (finishing a combined 3-for-17) allowing Dartmouth to briefly take the lead back.
"I think it's apparent that Jake [makes us] a better team, and I assume that his play will continue," Donahue said. "He's just a great guy to have coming off the bench."
With Dartmouth leading, 55-51, in the final minutes, though, the Quakers showed the clutch gene that’s saved them time and time again this season.
Junior guard Antonio Woods found a cutting Brodeur to tie the game with just under three minutes left. The two teams traded stops for a bit, and then Brodeur put Penn in the lead for good with his post bucket with only 44 seconds left.
"I thought his motor, which is always good, was great, great defensively," Donahue said of Brodeur, who recorded his second double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds. "Tonight I thought when he had his opportunities to score he really took advantage of it."
Dartmouth would still make things interesting, as senior guard Taylor Johnson hit an incredible corner three with 10 seconds left to cut the lead to two, but the upset bid would falter from there. Penn sealed the deal at the free throw line, holding on for a three-point win that was much closer than most anticipated.
As ugly as it may have been, a win is a win, and that’s now seven straight in the Ivy League for Penn — its longest single-season streak since its 2006-07 championship season. The Quakers will have a chance to extend that number to eight straight when they head to Harvard (11-11, 6-1) tomorrow night.