For the first time since the 2006-07 season, Penn men’s basketball has won an Ivy League championship.
The Red and Blue wrapped up their regular-season campaign with a 99-93 win over Brown Saturday night, leaving them tied with Harvard atop the conference standings with a 12-2 Ivy mark. However, due to the Crimson’s ownership of the tiebreaker after their season-concluding defeat of Columbia, Penn will enter next weekend’s Ivy League Tournament as the No. 2 seed.
“It’s a celebration. This is what we’ve talked about. It’s a 14-game tournament, a round robin,” coach Steve Donahue said. “To come out of that as the number one team, even if it’s shared, is an incredible accomplishment.”
After a crushing last-second loss at Yale Friday night, the Quakers came out red-hot in Providence Saturday. They were led by a career-high 30 points from sophomore guard Ryan Betley, who, in a nice long-range performance, made 6 of 9 shots from behind the arc. His teammates reciprocated that efficiency, as the squad sank 61 percent of their three pointers on the evening.
That ability to get hot from range, Donahue believes, gives the Quakers the chance to take down any team in the country — a chance Penn will get should they win the Ivy Tournament on Sunday and earn a March Madness bid.
“There’s analytics out there that we’re literally third-best in the country at getting ourselves open shots,” Donahue said. “But that’s been an inconsistent part of our game — missing open shots.”
Penn jumped out to a 47-31 halftime lead despite getting zero first-half field goals from starters Antonio Woods and AJ Brodeur. Brodeur heated up a bit in the second period, scoring all of his eleven points after intermission. Donahue noted that the attention paid to the all-Ivy forward allowed for teammate Max Rothschild to dominate down low.
“They doubled him pretty quickly,” Donahue said of Brodeur, “But then we went through AJ in the second half, and he kept getting us big bucket after big bucket.”
Rothschild had nine points and a game-high 10 rebounds, nearly picking up a double-double despite playing only 16 minutes in the contest.
Brown, despite facing deficits as great as 22 points, used their own high-octane offense to hang around in the shootout, chipping the Penn lead down to as little as four in the final minute. The Bears, who finished the season seventh in the conference, scored 90 points on the Quakers in each of the teams’ matchups.
“They played loose, they had nothing to lose. They really attacked,” Donahue said. “It’s a really tough team for us to guard.”
With the title-clinching win, Donahue has taken Penn from worst to first in the Ivy League in just his third season at the helm. That turnaround, he admits, was faster than even he could have predicted, given that his reformation efforts at Cornell and Boston College — his previous head-coaching jobs — had significantly longer gestation periods.
Nevertheless, Donahue is quick to acknowledge that the resurrection of Penn men's basketball has not been a one-man effort.
“There was a lot in place before I got here. There’s incredible support from administration, from fans who care,” he said.
“And what shouldn’t be lost here is Jerome Allen and his recruiting efforts the last couple of years. Darnell Foreman, for instance,” Donahue said, also noting the importance of Allen recruits Rothschild, Woods, and Jackson Donahue.
Penn will square off against No. 3 seed Yale in next weekend’s tournament, a rematch of the teams’ nail-biting contest Friday. A series of unfortunate events in that game’s final seconds (including turnovers and missed free throws) gifted the Elis the game and helped ensure the Quakers’ title would not be outright.
The Red and Blue will have the chance for quick revenge, though, this time on home court. Saturday’s Ivy semifinal at the Palestra will tip off at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.
In other words, the Steve Donahue revolution will be nationally televised.