ITHACA, N.Y. — Well, that was ugly.
Six days after clinching the outright Big 5 title, Penn men’s basketball lost to Cornell, 80-71, for the team’s third consecutive loss in Ivy League play.
The contest was close early on as neither team was able to get in an offensive rhythm in the opening minutes. Guards Antonio Woods and Bryce Washington started the scoring for the Quakers (12-7, 0-3 Ivy) with three pointers from the outside, but aside from that the Red and Blue weren’t able to create many scoring opportunities.
Contributing to those struggles was some sloppy play on the offensive side of the ball. Penn turned the ball over seven times in the first 10 minutes of the game, including at least once from each of their five starters.
"I thought we competed all night, but we just didn't execute," coach Steve Donahue said. "We had too many turnovers [and] missed shots at the rim."
However, that didn’t stop the Quakers from holding the lead for much of the first half. Success from behind the arc, where the Red and Blue scored 18 of their first 20 points, and on defense, where they held Cornell (10-9, 2-1) without a field goal for nearly eight minutes, allowed them to stay in front. These strengths helped the Red and Blue take a 37-30 lead at halftime despite their turnover woes.
The second half began in a troubling way for the Red and Blue, with many of their weaknesses from early in the contest coming back into the forefront. The Quakers quickly added to their turnover total, finishing the game with 19, and allowed the Big Red to take the lead after just three and a half minutes of play. Penn cooled down from the field as well, missing its first four three-pointers of the half and first nine shots overall.
As the early part of the half progressed, things began to look dire the Quakers. Two straight three-point plays for Cornell were followed by open layup misses from Woods and senior guard Jake Silpe, and Penn suddenly found itself in an eight-point hole. Additionally, Cornell's Matt Morgan, the Ivy League's top scorer, began to heat up from all around the floor, eventually finishing with 25 points.
Compounding those issues was the foul trouble that some of the Red and Blue soon found themselves in. This was most important for Washington, who committed his fifth foul of the game with just over eight minutes remaining and had to spend the rest of the game on the bench.
"They drove the ball on us. We fouled way too much," Donahue said. "We've been able to limit penetration for most of the year. We limit it, but we foul."
With Washington out, it was time for another freshman to step up. After failing to score in the first half, forward Michael Wang sparked the struggling Quakers with seven consecutive points and 14 in four minutes to briefly give them the lead once again.
Junior forward AJ Brodeur was key for the Red and Blue during this stretch as well. His strong presence in the paint allowed him to score seven quick points and keep Penn in the game. By the end of the contest, he had recorded 17 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists.
With the game tied entering the final minutes, the Quakers had to make something happen, but offensive miscues ended up costing them the game. Three consecutive missed free throws from Brodeur, who shot 2-for-7 from the line, along with several missed shots meant that Cornell finished the game on a 10-0 run and won by nine.
Considering that Penn has lost its first three conference games in the midst of winning a Big 5 title, it might seem as though the Red and Blue are two different teams depending on the competition. However, Donahue doesn't think of them that way.
"Cornell's probably better than two teams in the Big 5," he said. "It's on their floor and they have one the best players in the League, so I don't think it's [like] Jekyll and Hyde."
On Saturday, the Quakers will try to end their Ivy League skid in another away game at Columbia.
"You learn and move on," Donahue said. "We need to stay together and figure out a way to use the next 22 hours to prepare to play our best game of the year."