Just another day in paradise.
After traveling down to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Tournament, Penn men’s basketball defeated Northern Iowa, 78-71, on Friday. The team's strong second half performance and excellent shooting from deep propelled the Quakers (4-0) to victory, giving Penn its best start to a season since the 1978-79 season in which the team made it to the Final Four.
This team has high expectations, too, despite losing last year’s leading scorer, junior guard Ryan Betley, to injury earlier in the season. The Quakers travelled down to the Virgin Islands expecting a stiff test but with hopes that they could carry momentum from the 30-point drubbing of Lafayette on Tuesday.
That’s exactly what the Red and Blue did.
The game started slow, as Penn and Northern Iowa (1-2) proved to be fairly evenly matched. The matchup between dueling guards, Penn junior Devon Goodman and Northern Iowa freshman AJ Green, who put up 13 points each in the first half, was a key narrative early on in the game. Although Northern Iowa may have won the battle in the first half, edging the Quakers by five points, Goodman and Penn would go on to win the war.
Green held the edge in shooting from beyond the arc in the first half, but Goodman proved to be the more complete and consistent player. The sophomore put up a career-high 27 points on 62.5 percent shooting from three, and punished the Panthers around the rim, with his passing prowess, and on the defensive end, notching five steals as a part of a tenacious defensive effort by the Quakers.
“I think the reason that we won was that we concentrated, played defense, gritted it out, and just played as the team with more energy, and I think that’s what we’re going to be looking for against [Kansas State],” Goodman said. “We might not be the more talented group, but we bring energy; we’re going to give whoever we play our hardest.”
Penn took the lead with around ten minutes still left in the second half, but the game remained close until the final minutes, when the Red and Blue gave themselves some breathing room and rode solid free-throw shooting to victory.
Freshman forward Michael Wang proved to be a flashy, dominant force on the offensive end. He only had eight points on the night, but the 6-foot-10 freshman contributed more than the box score can indicate with his passing and screens. Although he’s shown some struggles on defense early in the season, he’s already demonstrating growth and promise on that side of the ball.
“Guard[ing] smaller guys, they're faster and quicker than me, and the bigger guys are stronger than me, I just have to find a way to be able to guard them and that’s going to keep me on the floor,” Wang said.
With senior forward Max Rothschild in foul trouble and the game on the line, coach Steve Donahue appeared to have no problem relying on Wang, who played a significant portion of the second half, getting nearly all of his twenty minutes in crunch time. Donahue’s system is perfect for a multi-talented big like Wang, who can play in the post, put the ball on the floor, shoot, pass, and rebound.
“It means a lot to me, this is my fourth college game,” Wang said. “The way we play offense, we run team offense and everyone just gives their all defensively. … Especially today, my shots weren’t going, but my teammates were still trying to get me involved and it’s just the way we play, we share the ball and I really like it and it’s what I’m good at.”
After making the trip down to the Virgin Islands, the team won’t be leaving just yet. Which is fortunate for the Quakers, given all they went through to get there.
“Our travel was really crazy, we had a reservation problem, and we actually all took separate flights to get here — one group took 27 hours and came today,” Goodman said. “We’re all a little jetlagged, especially the group that came late and we knew it was gonna be hard, but we gritted it out and had a really good game, given the circumstances.”
Luckily for Penn fans, it didn’t seem to affect the team’s performance too much on Friday night. With some rest and adjustment to the new time zone, No. 12 Kansas State would be wise to watch out for the upstart Quakers. The Red and Blue face the Wildcats in the Paradise Jam semifinals on Sunday.