This season has been one of many accomplishments for the Quakers: They had 10 wins before the New Year for the first time in program history, and they started 4-0 for the first time since 1978-79. Now, they have one more accolade to add: outright Big 5 champions.
Penn men's basketball beat St. Joseph’s, 78-70, in a rare away game in the packed Palestra. Led by some strong performances from freshman guard Bryce Washington and junior forward AJ Brodeur, the Red and Blue knocked in 14-of-38 threes while St. Joe’s shot just 3-of-24 from downtown.
“This game — the Big 5 championship — we wanted all of that to ourselves,” Brodeur said. “We treated this game like it was a championship game: win or go home. And we won tonight.”
The Hawks started out dominating on the glass, with redshirt sophomore Charlie Brown Jr. netting seven rebounds in the first eight minutes of the game. St. Joe’s raced out to a 17-13 lead, which was later reduced to 16-13 upon review, after a Brown three was deemed a two-pointer. The Quakers stormed back with big threes from Washington, Brodeur, and a memorable banked three by senior guard Jake Silpe. At one point in the first half, Penn had made 7-of-13 three pointers.
A cold spell at the end of the half let the Hawks back into the game. Penn didn't score in the last 3:49 of game play, which ended a hot streak that saw the Quakers lead by as much as eight.
Penn led the game by as much as 13 in the second half, but St. Joe’s made things interesting towards the end of the game: they cut the lead to just three points with under two minutes remaining, before Silpe hit an open three to stretch the Penn lead back to six.
Things looked ominous for the Red and Blue when senior guard Antonio Woods fouled out on the next possession, and a few possessions later, St. Joe's freshman Jared Bynum hit a layup that rolled off the top of the backboard and into the basket. Nevertheless, Penn played stout defense and sunk 5-of-6 of their free throws in the final minute of play to hold on for the win.
The Quakers pressured St. Joe’s on the defensive side of the ball throughout the game. They forced 10 St. Joe’s turnovers, which is notable for a team that has the second lowest turnover total per game this season in the nation (9.4).
The Hawks found a scoring outburst from Brown, who averaged 19.6 points per game heading into the night. Brown finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds.
The Quakers were led offensively by some familiar faces: Brodeur notched his 12th straight double-digit scoring game with 20 points, while Washington scored a career-high 23 points — including six three pointers — put up his career best rebound total by corralling 10 boards, and had a career high four assists. Meanwhile, freshman forward Michael Wang put up 12 points — his first double digit game of the New Year.
“I knew how much a Big 5 championship meant to my teammates. The seniors especially were ecstatic in the locker room," Washington said. "I just wanted to come out and give all I had, make sure I was prepared for the game, and be aggressive on the boards.”
It's the first time since 2001-02 that Penn has gone 4-0 in Big 5 play and just the third time they've done so since 1980-81.
“There’s a documentary about the Big 5 that Tony Paris did, but those comments made by former players mentioned Penn as an aside,” Donahue said. “Our guys watched it, and I think that was something that motivated them. They felt like they’re tired of being an afterthought. And I think we made progress on challenging that with our win tonight.”
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.