Basketball season is back, and it didn’t take long for there to be a lot of drama.
In a thrilling season opener that came down to the final seconds, Penn men’s basketball took down George Mason, 72-71. Even with the win, the biggest story of the night, however, was an injury to junior guard Ryan Betley.
Just five minutes into the first half, Betley went down awkwardly on the baseline. His teammates immediately signaled for medical staff to come over, and he remained on the ground for several minutes. He was eventually helped off the court by teammates.
He returned to the bench in the middle of the second half with a crutch and large brace on his right leg. On Wednesday, Betley announced on Twitter that the injury was a ruptured patellar tendon that would require surgery and keep him out for the remainder of the season.
"It's not good. It's just a hard part of this game. He puts [in] so much effort, wanted to have a great year, and it's just probably not going to happen," coach Steve Donahue said. "The only silver lining on this — it's the first game of the year. He doesn't lose a year of eligibility."
"We always can rally. You know we're a family. I can't mention it enough — we're big on family," senior guard Antonio Woods said. "When one of our brothers goes down, we have to pick each other up, next guy steps up."
In his absence, several players stepped up for the Quakers. For most of the first half, it was freshman forward Michael Wang who served as the three-point specialist. In his first collegiate game, Wang knocked down four treys and amassed 14 points, all of which came in the first half.
"We've seen signs of it, but you never know when the lights are on exactly what he's going to do," Donahue said about Wang.
After leading for much of the first 20 minutes, though, the Quakers saw their lead slip away. A series of fouls allowed the Patriots to push ahead and finish the half leading 37-33.
The Patriots continued that strong run of play in the second half, stretching the lead to nine points. But the Quakers slowly began chipping away, with their comeback led by junior forward AJ Brodeur, who finished the game with a team-high 19 points. A layup from junior guard Devon Goodman brought the score within one with eight minutes left.
That’s when senior guard Antonio Woods took over. He spent the first 13 minutes of the half on the bench with four fouls, but once he checked back in, he scored at will. In a two minute stretch, he scored eight straight points for the Quakers, all of which came while attacking the rim. Even so, the Patriots kept pace.
"We rested him to the eight [minute timeout], that was our plan when you have four fouls. I love that he had the initiative to come in, and I think he felt that we needed something," Donahue said about Woods.
The Quakers finally struck through with 2:17 left to play. A defensive stand, followed by a layup from Brodeur, gave the Quakers the lead for the first time since before the end of the first half.
At that point, the game bounced back and forth. George Mason’s Otis Livingston II made a jump shot, and the Patriots added a bucket on a free throw. However, Woods once again came through to tie the game with just over a minute left.
And that’s when Penn’s defense went into lockdown mode. The Quakers forced two consecutive misses, and Brodeur made one key free throw to put Penn up for good.
Penn had plenty of chances to put the game away, but Woods and Brodeur combined to go 1 for 6 from the line in the final minute. An offensive rebound off a missed free throw gave the Quakers an extra chance to ice the game, but they came up empty at the line once again.
"I feel like it was first game jitters," Woods said. "[It was] a great atmosphere, we just kind of took our mind off it."
With just six seconds left, the Patriots had their last chance. They grabbed the ball off of Woods’ last miss and moved the ball quickly up the court, but the last-second shot came up short.
The resiliency of the Quakers was on full display tonight. Ten different players scored a bucket, and the team refused to quit even when confronted with injuries and foul trouble. The team's perseverance will be especially important as the team moves on without one of its best players.
This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. on Wednesday after Ryan Betley announced his injury on Twitter.
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