It took a full 40-minute effort, and then some.
But in one of the most exciting Penn men’s basketball games in a season full of them, the Quakers came back and then held on late to beat Brown 95-90 in overtime.
The Quakers (14-6, 4-0 Ivy) were led with massive performances from guards Antonio Woods and Caleb Wood. Both hit big threes from all over the court – first to bring Penn back into the game, then to put them ahead.
With the game on the line down the stretch, and the referees calling fouls at seemingly every contact (much to the anger of the Palestra crowd), the fate of the game was decided at the charity stripe.
Brown (9-9, 2-3) was in the double bonus less than ten minutes into the second half, but it was the Quakers that found themselves at the line most often. Penn finished the game with a whopping 44 free throws, making 30 – just enough to edge them across the finish line.
Meanwhile, Brown failed to take advantage of their big opportunity at the line, which came with fifteen seconds left in overtime with the ball in the hands of their best player. Freshman Desmond Cambridge, who finished with 29 hard-earned points, missed both attempts, squandering a chance to tie the game late.
The large number of calls lead to foul trouble for both teams. Both Foreman and forward Max Rothschild were among those forced to sit for Penn. In all, four players fouled out, including Foreman and Cambridge.
Cambridge carried Brown for large stretches of the game. In the opening five minutes, the guard made several contested shots, leading to a 12-2 run that put the Bears up 15-6 just minutes into the game.
“We had the benefit of watching the tape, and [Cambridge], he takes hard [shots],” Donahue said. “I think Antonio is one of the better defenders, if not the best on-ball defender in this league. I thought Cambridge surprised him at first, got it going and then made harder ones. I really didn’t think we let our guard down on that kid.”
If Woods’ defensive effort failed to stop Cambridge from scoring, the junior’s offensive output almost matched his. Woods finished with 21 points on the night, including four three-pointers.
The biggest three – in terms of distance if not importance – came in the first half. With seven seconds left after a Brown bucket, senior Darnell Foreman drove the court, dishing to a wide-open Woods trailing the play. Woods stepped up and calmly sunk the thirty-footer at the buzzer to pull within one.
“Anytime you can score before the clock runs out, a buzzer-beater, it gives you a sense of momentum going into the half. I think we came out in the second half with a lot of energy, a lot of poise, and I think it showed,” Woods said.
Unlike the first half, when Penn trailed by as much as nine, the second half was much closer. Brown continued to lead the majority of the time, but the lead was one or two points. Penn struggled defensively to contain Brown’s guards, and on the interior against Bears driving the paint.
Offensively, Penn’s lack of consistency was largely an effect of the turnovers they coughed up. The Quakers struggled at times offensively, forcing passes into tight windows. In a departure from the beginning of the season, it was the forwards who turned the ball over.
Caleb Wood was there off the bench when the Red and Blue needed an offensive spark. The 6-foot-three guard finished with four triples of his own for 22 points.
“Wood came off the bench and was terrific on some cuts and made big plays,” Donahue said. “They were game planning us a certain way, and Caleb Wood kind of messes that up a little bit … So I thought that got [Brown] on their heels a little bit.”
Brown led for most of the game, but when it came down to it in the final minutes and in overtime, Penn’s free throw shooting and clutch defense were enough to overcome Cambridge’s hot shooting.