In the fight for their tournament lives, the Quakers are off to a good start.
After a disappointing loss to Columbia on Friday, there is a chance that Penn men’s basketball needs to win all of its remaining games if it hopes to return to the Ivy League Tournament. The Quakers got the job done on Saturday in a strong 68-50 win over Cornell, which sat two slots above them in the conference standings entering the game.
“Our back is to the wall and, in some ways, I get excited about that,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I love the challenge.”
Against Columbia, the Quakers’ usual starting five was unable to get much going, which may have affected coach Steve Donahue’s personnel decisions against the Big Red (13-13, 5-5 Ivy). Freshman forward Michael Wang and senior guard Jake Silpe replaced senior forward Max Rothschild and freshman guard Bryce Washington to begin the game.
After relying heavily on the bench for scoring in Friday’s defeat, the Quakers (16-10, 4-6) turned to their veteran leaders to provide the points in the first half. Junior guard Devon Goodman had the hot hand, knocking down his first three attempts from beyond the arc. Junior forward AJ Brodeur got back to what he does best — scoring in the post against the smaller frontcourt of the Big Red.
“I believe in this group, that they’re going to give their best and I think they understand and learned a lot over these last couple weekends that we have to be mentally tough,” Donahue said.
The Quakers jumped out to a quick 12-point lead but saw it quickly melt away as Cornell’s standout senior guard Matt Morgan got going. Morgan did most of his damage near the rim and at the free-throw line in the first meeting between these two teams in a 25-point outing. In the first half, Morgan showed that he’s a threat from the outside too, hitting four contested threes.
“In all my years in the League, [Morgan] is absolutely the best scorer that I’ve ever seen,” Donahue said. “I think he’s an NBA player.”
Morgan ended up being the lone bright spot for Cornell, easily leading the team in points with 21 and distributing effectively with three assists despite poor shooting from his teammates. Sophomore forward Jimmy Boeheim, who averages 11.5 points on 60 percent shooting this season, was held almost completely in check, going 3-of-12 from the field.
To begin the second half, the Quakers retook the lead thanks to consistent shooting and strong defense. Silpe justified his inclusion in the starting lineup with seven quick points without a miss from the field. On the defensive end, the Red and Blue held the Big Red to 30 percent shooting for the entirety of the period. After trailing by two at halftime, the Quakers went up, 37-34, and never looked back.
“We really took ownership and made plays on both sides of the floor,” Silpe said.
Meanwhile, the Big Red seemed to have trouble keeping their feet on the ground. Cornell committed numerous traveling violations throughout the night, which prevented the team from establishing any sort of rhythm. With the offense stalled, the Big Red resorted to a full court press to try and force some turnovers for easy buckets.
Without scoring points to force an inbounds pass from the baseline, however, it is difficult to consistently set up a press defense. By continuing to force Cornell misses, the Quakers effectively prevented the Big Red from getting back into the game with the full-court press.
“We go into most games with a must-win mentality; tonight our approach to the game was a lot different,” Silpe said. “Everyone was locked in.”
The Red and Blue will now look ahead to their final road trip of the season at Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend to continue their fight up the Ancient Eight standings.
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