PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Throughout this season, there have seemingly been two versions of Penn men’s basketball: the one that went undefeated in the Big 5 for the first time since 2002 and the one that lost its first three Ivy League games. Tonight, the better of the two versions came to play.
To start the game, the Quakers took a 2-0 lead off of junior guard Devon Goodman’s fastbreak layup and never looked back, leading for the rest of the game and ultimately taking down the Bears, 92-82.
In a 2,800-seat Pizzitola Sports Center, the Red and Blue (14-7, 2-3 Ivy) quickly deflated the home crowd’s energy by going on a 13-3 run through the first four minutes of action. The rest of the way, the formula was simple for Penn — keeping a tight defense and finding shooters on offense.
By the end of the night, the Red and Blue dished out a total of 18 assists, while knocking down 13 three-pointers and shooting 58.5 percent from the field. Freshman forward Michael Wang was responsible for three of these treys in the first half, as he, Goodman, and junior forward AJ Brodeur each had nine points through the first 20 minutes.
"When we play well, we move the ball and make good decisions," coach Steve Donahue said. "I thought [our passing] was really good. [Brown] gets in you, and they're a very good defensive team. I think having two bigs that can pass is really helpful because [Brown] really gets into your guards and they trap ball screens. … If you can’t pass, it’s difficult to score against them.”
On the other side of the ball, Penn did a nice job of helping out on Brown’s big men down low, while also closing out on long-range shooters. The Bears’ two stars of the night were guards Desmond Cambridge and Obi Okolie. The sophomore Cambridge, who has made a name for himself as a tough-shot-maker, finished with 21 points, while his senior teammate Okolie had a game-high 25 points.
“I thought we did a pretty good job [on defense]. We knew going in that Cambridge was going to make a lot of hard shots, but we [focused on] just sticking with it,” Goodman said. “We could have done a better job at rebounding, but we’ll get better at that to stop more second possessions.”
As Goodman alluded to, Brown (13-8, 1-4) grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points.
On offense, the Quakers’ proficiency did not end in the first half, which was evident after freshman guard Bryce Washington hit a three ball with 18:37 left in the game and Goodman hit one on the next possession to make the score 52-36 in favor of Penn. By the end of the contest, the starting backcourt duo would combine for seven threes and 41 points. Goodman, especially, was all over the court, finishing with three assists and three steals.
“Dev [Goodman] has been terrific," Donahue said. "I think for all the minutes he plays — and he’s such a great defender first and foremost — he’s just become a consistent half-court guard. I thought his passes were excellent tonight; he shot the ball well and played with confidence.”
Even though the second half was played at a much slower pace, the Red and Blue did not go cold. Every time Brown cut the lead down and made things uncomfortable for Penn, the Quakers responded with a bucket.
Two particularly memorable plays were Brodeur’s spin move and dunk with 11:48 remaining, and Goodman’s and-one layup which gave his team a 71-52 lead with 9:06 left. Both plays ignited the Penn bench, as well as the Penn band, which made the game feel like less of a road matchup.
The Goodman three-point play was a dagger, and the game was all but over at that point.
Brown strung the game out in the final few minutes by fouling the Quakers. With exactly one minute remaining, the Bears made it interesting with junior guard Zach Hunsaker’s three, which cut Penn’s lead to nine. It was too little too late, though, as Washington grabbed a defensive rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws to officially seal the deal.
The Red and Blue will only be able to enjoy this win for a few hours before shifting their focus to Yale for Saturday’s matchup in New Haven, Conn., a game that could have huge implications for which teams will be playing in the Ivy League Tournament come March.