It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But when the final buzzer sounded, the Quakers got the job done.
In a thrilling, back-and-forth affair in front of a rowdy Palestra crowd, Penn men’s basketball defeated Brown, 58-51, to secure the fourth and final spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
“I’m proud of our guys,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I just sensed it with this group over the last couple of weekends, that someone’s really going to have to knock us out to not be in this.”
The Quakers' defense gave the usually high-powered Brown offense fits all night long. Penn (19-11, 7-7 Ivy) forced the Bears (19-11, 7-7) into committing 22 turnovers. On the other end of the floor, even though it was Senior Night, it was the junior duo of Devon Goodman and AJ Brodeur that powered the Quakers, especially in the second half. The two finished with 38 of the Quakers' 58 points.
The first half was very evenly matched, with the two teams heading into the break knotted up at 27. Penn held the lead for much of the half, but never by more than a couple of possessions. The star of the half was senior guard Jake Silpe, who led the way with 13 points on a bevy of threes, backdoor cuts, and layups.
“It was a really good feeling,” Silpe said. “I felt my shot going, got my legs involved … and got to the rim.”
In the second half, the Quakers jumped out of the gate firing on all cylinders. An 8-0 run, powered mostly by inside looks from Brodeur and senior forward Max Rothschild, forced Brown to take a timeout. But the Bears fought back with a run of their own, even taking a one-point lead with 14:34 left to play.
The Quakers kept at it though, and were able to take the lead for good off a Goodman three and Brodeur floater. Brown was able to nibble at the lead, but a particularly strong stretch from Penn pushed the lead up to double digits. With about nine minutes to play, the combination of a block from sophomore forward Jarrod Simmons, a Goodman three, a steal, an offensive board, and a Goodman layup forced Brown into a timeout.
“AJ is a force down low for any team that he plays against, so we always try to do that two-man game,” Goodman said. “If I pass it in to AJ, he’s going to score most of the time. And then he’s a smart enough player to know if he’s double-teamed to kick it out to a shooter.”
That two-man game was especially lethal tonight, as all four of Brodeur’s assists came on Goodman buckets, including the one at the end of that stretch to give the Quakers a 10-point lead, and one of Goodman’s assists was on a Brodeur fast-break layup.
Brown was able to shrink the lead to four as the Quakers’ offense stagnated over the next few minutes , but Brodeur stopped the bleeding with a layup with 3:05 left to play. Both defenses hunkered down, and no more field goals were made. And with each defensive stop, each clutch rebound, the Quakers kept the clock moving until there was no time left.
Penn moves on to the Ivy League Tournament, where it will face No. 1 Harvard on Saturday.
With the win over the Bears, the Quakers capped a regular season full of extreme highs and lows. They beat Villanova for the first time in 16 years and went on to sweep the rest of the Big 5, but struggled throughout much of Ivy play. At the end of the day though, the Quakers found a way to the top half of the conference.
But the fun is just getting started for the Red and Blue.