Opportunity knocked this afternoon, and Penn men’s basketball answered once more. In the team's first game back since its dramatic win against No. 17 Villanova at the Palestra, the Quakers looked to keep rolling in a road test against New Mexico.
Penn rolled indeed and held on to defeat New Mexico on Saturday afternoon in Albuquerque, N.M. by a score of 75-65. After jumping out to a commanding 15-point lead to begin the game, the Quakers (10-2) started to feel the effects of New Mexico’s stingy full-court press and rowdy home crowd.
In just the second all-time meeting between the two schools, the Red and Blue took advantage of early turnovers and hot shooting to take a 12-2 lead. On the back of two three-pointers by senior guard Jackson Donahue — one of which went for a four-point play — Penn stretched the lead to 19-4.
As the Quakers started to cool down from the field, the Lobos (5-6) clawed their way back into the game. New Mexico began to heat up, shooting 5 of 9 from three in the first half and forcing the Red and Blue to turn the ball over before Penn could get into its offensive sets.
“They’re going to make a run, it’s going to get loud in here, and we’re going to have to play through it,” coach Steve Donahue said he told the team. “I thought every time [New Mexico] had a chance to make a big run and get ahead, we made a big play.”
With 5:17 left in the first half, the Lobos’ sophomore forward Vance Jackson hit from behind the arc to give the home side its first lead of the day at 27-26. The Quakers kept battling, though, and with 1:53 remaining, capitalized on a blocking foul and technical foul by the Lobos to take a 38-33 lead.
After both teams went back and forth during the final minutes of the first half, the Red and Blue went into halftime with a 42-38 lead.
Unlike the first, the second half was competitive throughout. With 11:05 remaining, Penn was forced to take a timeout after New Mexico charged back to take a 53-52 lead with a couple of threes to cap off a 9-0 run.
Following the timeout, freshman forward Michael Wang, who got his first career start in place of senior forward Max Rothschild, retook the lead for the Quakers. Wang was excellent on the day, finishing with 19 points and a season-high nine assists. Junior forward AJ Brodeur led all scorers with 20 points and added nine rebounds of his own, while junior guard Devon Goodman chipped in 13 points.
Both teams continued to trade baskets until Penn took control with 5:01 left to play, when freshman guard Bryce Washington followed his own three-pointer with a floater and senior guard Jake Silpe made a layup to extend Penn’s lead to 68-61.
Senior guard Antonio Woods fouled out of the game with 1:39 left on the clock, but the Quakers never faltered. From there, the Red and Blue relied on strong defense and solid shooting from the line to secure the victory.
Penn has spread the wealth all season to get lots of players involved, and today was no different with big contributions from the freshmen Wang and Washington.
“For those two to come into this kind of environment and really be an integral part of what we did is very impressive,” Donahue said of his young players. “I think they’ve benefitted from the schedule we’ve played ... All of those experiences I think prepared them for a game like today’s.”
In the meantime, the Red and Blue await the return of Rothschild from a nagging back injury.
“We shut [Max] down for the last nine days hoping that it would help and I think he’s gotten better,” Donahue said. “Our goal is to see how he feels after Christmas and obviously get him healthy for the league.”
The Quakers will return home for the holidays to rest and prepare for a matchup at Toledo on Dec. 29.
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