Everything was falling into place for Penn men’s basketball on Friday night, and they didn’t even know it. Brown had lost to Columbia just as the Quakers were tipping off against Harvard, and Cornell was getting trounced by Yale at the same time.
But with the door open for the Red and Blue to get into a three-way tie for fourth in the Ivy League with the Bears and Big Red, they couldn’t make it through.
The reason for this wasn’t poor defense. The Quakers held star junior guard Bryce Aiken to just 12 points on 3-for-12 shooting, and junior forward Chris Lewis was essentially a non-factor — which is what makes this loss that much more frustrating for Penn.
And the reason certainly wasn’t AJ Brodeur or Devon Goodman, as the junior duo combined for 39 of the team’s 53 points.
The loss, instead, highlights the lack of offensive consistency that has plagued the Red and Blue in Ivy contests all year long. Brodeur and Goodman have been the constant leaders on offense that every winning team needs. However, every winning team also needs a supporting cast that can take some of the load off of the leaders’ backs.
That cast of role players certainly showed up during Penn’s magical run to the NCAA Tournament last season, and they were present again this year during nonconference play. But in League games, more and more pressure has been put on Brodeur, in particular, to be excellent every night. To his credit, he has answered the call — the forward is averaging 20.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in Ivy play — but even that has not been enough.
The Quakers somehow still have a decent chance of advancing to the Ivy Tournament in two weeks, but even if they do sneak in as the No. 4 seed, they will be hard-pressed to win a pair of games leaning almost solely on Brodeur and Goodman for offensive production. Those two could feasibly carry the team into the Ivy tourney, but if others don’t step up, the odds of Penn knocking off Yale in its own gym, as well as either Harvard or Princeton, are minimal.
Part of what’s happening is that Penn’s youth is slumping at the wrong time. In particular, freshmen Bryce Washington and Michael Wang have not looked like the same players that they were in November and December. Each has begun to struggle from the three-point line, a place where they do most of their scoring.
For Washington, his 45.2 percent clip from beyond the arc in nonconference play has turned into a 34.0 percent mark in League games. Wang has seen a similar slide in his numbers — going from 37.5 to 22.2 percent — to the point where he has been off the court for long stretches of games. Whether this downward trend for the freshman duo is a product of inexperience playing a full Ivy League season or the residual effects of an injury is unclear. But what is clear is that Penn needs them to return to form quickly.
It’s not just them, though. Even the more experienced players are having trouble settling into a role this season. Take the seniors, for example. Aside from Antonio Woods, who has been steady throughout the season, guards Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue, as well as forward Max Rothschild, have not provided the same spark that each of them have given Penn in the past.
Donahue, after playing over 10 minutes per game last year, has essentially fallen out of the rotation, while Silpe and Rothschild have not been doing what they do best on the offensive end — hitting three balls and dishing out assists in the post, respectively.
With all of that being said, Penn has shown the ability this season to play true team basketball on offense, where the opposing defense doesn’t know who the ball is going to and where it doesn’t seem to matter who’s taking the shot because everyone is confident enough to make it. We haven’t seen that type of basketball — for an extended period — from the Quakers in a while, but they still have a chance to switch into that mode, flip the script, and run the table.
After all, they’re still the reigning Ivy champs.