The second 2018 matchup between Penn men’s basketball and Harvard was billed as a battle between the Ivy League’s top two teams. And did it ever live up to the hype.
The Quakers took down the Crimson, 74-71, at the Palestra, getting revenge for Harvard’s 76-67 win two weeks ago in Cambridge, Mass. The Red and Blue (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) regained sole possession of first place in the Ivy League in what could set the stage for a rematch in the Ivy League Tournament.
Harvard (15-12, 10-2) held a small lead for much of the first half, but the game was always within reach for both teams. Neither led by more than five points until the Quakers had a 67-60 advantage with 2:13 left in the game, and there were 20 lead changes.
After taking the lead, 59-58, with 5:33 remaining in the second half, Penn never relinquished the lead, but it required some clutch shooting.
Harvard forward Seth Towns’ three with 50 seconds left reduced Penn’s lead to two points, 67-65, but senior guard Darnell Foreman found senior guard Caleb Wood open on the side wing near the corner for a three that padded the Red and Blue’s lead to five points with 29 seconds left.
Towns was able to launch a half-court shot down three points as the buzzer sounded but it was no good.
Despite owning the two best Ivy defenses, the teams combined for 40 points scored in the first 10 minutes. Penn shot 14 for 26, including 5 of 13 from three, but ceded 12 of 23 shooting, including 4 of 6 from three to the Crimson. However, scoring slowed down in the next 10 minutes, with the teams combining for 30 points.
Sophomore guard Ryan Betley, coming off the bench with the team celebrating its seniors, scored 10 of the Red and Blue’s first 17 points, finishing the first half with 13 points fueled by a torrid 4 of 5 clip from three-point range. Foreman added eight of his 14 points and two of his five assists in the half.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker had nothing but praise for Foreman.
“I thought he was tremendous. He played like a senior backcourt player,” Amaker said. “Very poised, I thought he made great decisions and he controls their team incredibly well, he gets everyone involved.”
While the Quakers were efficient on offense in the first half, it was a different story in the second half. Betley did not score in the second half until he made two free throws with 12.7 seconds remaining in the game, failing to convert on any of his five attempts. As a team, Penn shot just 2 of 13 from three in the second half.
Coming to the rescue on offense was sophomore forward AJ Brodeur, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half and contributed 12 rebounds, four assists, and four steals.
A Crimson offense that saw six players score between 5 and 8 points in the first half turned into a one-man show in the second half. Towns provided 16 of his 22 points in the second half, finishing with 7 of 10 shooting and eight rebounds. He scored 10 of Harvard’s last 13 points, including two clutch threes in the final minute to keep the Red and Blue from pulling away.
Guard Corey Johnson added 14 points for the Crimson, and forward Chris Lewis, who torched Penn for 25 points in the season’s first matchup, was held in check for nine points. Donahue acknowledged that the Quakers were not going to let Lewis be the focal point of the Harvard offense again, and Amaker noted some of the adjustments Penn made.
“You saw them double some. They didn’t do that the first time, and I thought they really collapsed a lot,” Amaker said. “They made it very difficult for him to have space to work and he missed some. For him to shoot under 50 percent and he’s taking everything in the paint, he needs to be better.”
Both coaches acknowledged that one of the keys to the Red and Blue’s victory was the Quakers winning the turnover battle. Penn forced 14 Crimson turnovers and scored 22 points off those chances, versus Harvard scoring eight points off eight turnovers.
“They’re so active on defense, so I like to think you have to attack them, otherwise you’re going to go east and west. They swarm the ball, and the most gratifying thing is we didn’t make turnovers,” Donahue said. “I thought we made good decisions, we didn’t play a great offensive game but played a pretty game all-around.”
Donahue also noted Penn’s success in committing far fewer defensive fouls in the second half than in the first. This led to Harvard not getting as many chances at the foul line as it might have liked and avoided serious foul trouble to Brodeur and others.
Penn now controls its destiny in regard to seeding in the Ivy League Tournament. If the Quakers beat both Yale and Brown next weekend to close out the regular season, they will secure the top seed.
Foreman says Penn cannot fly under the radar now, and in fact has a target on its back.
“We’re at the top of the league as far as record, so teams are going to be hungry like we were last year, so we have to work even harder,” Foreman said.
“We can’t relax because that tournament is grueling. Guys are going to be giving their best shot.”