The night was filled with excitement as Penn men’s basketball returned to the Palestra on Friday night. The team and fans watched the unveiling of the 2018 Ivy League Championship banner, and the crowd was electric from the jump.
Once the game started, it turned out to be a tale of two halves for the Red and Blue.
After leading by just two points through the first half, Penn found its groove in the next 20 minutes of action to soundly defeat Rice 92-76. One similarity between the two periods was the way the Quakers started.
In the first half, the group raced out to a 17-7 lead before becoming stagnant on offense. The second half also saw an early surge by the Red and Blue (2-0), as they found themselves ahead by 12 points through eight minutes.
Unlike in the first half, though, Penn was able to maintain its lead to finish off Rice (1-1). The team stayed steady and cruised through the final stretch without much trouble from the Owls.
The strong finish was due, in large part, to the dominant performance from junior forward AJ Brodeur, who has picked up right where he left off from last season. The big man from Northborough, Mass. put up 23 points, six rebounds, five assists, and three blocks.
“I know that my teammates trust me enough to give me that freedom to work down [low],” Brodeur said. “In practice, I’ve noticed that they’re telling me to take shots that I feel like I shouldn’t be taking, but when I do take them, I’m growing that confidence that they’re going in.”
Brodeur, however, was not the only one on Penn to make his mark on the game. Junior starting point guard Devon Goodman and senior reserve guard Jake Silpe also provided boosts of their own for the Quakers.
Goodman made a point of attacking the basket every chance he could, and it served him well. The junior finished the contest with 15 points and four dimes and was nearly impossible to stay in front of. Silpe, for his part, was disruptive on the defensive end, totaling five steals, including one which helped the Quakers take the lead to end the first half. Additionally, he put up 16 points and was five of seven from the floor.
“Jake was terrific tonight; that’s what he does,” coach Steve Donahue said. “The reason he gets five steals is [because] he plays really hard. He competes for every damn ball, and he’s a great guy to have that’s been through so much.”
A big question mark heading into this one was how Penn would respond to the loss of junior guard Ryan Betley, who is out for the season with a ruptured patella tendon. In his absence, the Red and Blue had many solid moments but also showed points of vulnerability.
“We’re going through some transition, figuring out who we are,” Donahue said. “From losing Ryan, but just in general, it’s a new season, and I think everyone wants to pitch a perfect game, and it’s just not going to happen yet. We’re trying to blend in some freshmen that can make us better, and older guys [have] slightly different roles like Dev and even [senior guard] Antonio [Woods] and Jake. I think that’s what you’re seeing.”
One downside to this victory for Penn was that it included Woods leaving the game due a late second half injury. Donahue indicated after the game that Woods tweaked his kneecap, while also stating that it is an injury that he has suffered before. The severity of it is currently unknown, but Woods was able to return from the locker room and rejoin his teammates on the bench in the final minutes of the game.
With Friday's victory, the Red and Blue took another step in finding their team identity. The team will look to take another one when it takes on Lafayette in a home contest on Tuesday night.
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