In a must-win game with their backs against the wall, the Quakers were in complete desperation mode.
They needed to be — a tight, back-and-forth first half gave Penn men's basketball only a three-point lead at the break. The second half was an entirely different story. The Quakers pulled away thanks to runs of 14 and 13 straight points to defeat the Big Green, 65-51.
Junior forward AJ Brodeur led the way for the Quakers (17-11, 5-7 Ivy) offensively yet again. He notched another double-double, leading the team in both categories with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
The first half was marked by defensive basketball and poor shooting. Both teams also missed open shots — particularly from deep. Penn's 4-for-16 shooting was only a few percentage points worse than Dartmouth's 2-for-7 output.
The key difference between the halves was three-point shooting. In the first half, the shots weren’t falling. In the second they did: six of them at a 40 percent clip. Those threes, including three in a row to start the 13-0 run and extend the lead to 20, were the missing piece of the Quakers' offense.
“In some ways, it wasn’t [a tale of two halves], because the defense was great the whole way. Our defense has been great the whole weekend. I think we came in here and played — unfortunately, for three halves, we just didn’t play on the offensive end like we’re capable,” coach Steve Donahue said. “In the second half, we came out and played like we’re capable of on the offensive end.”
“Sometimes it’s as simple as: We made shots in the second half that we missed in the first half.”
Donahue opted to go with a deeper bench while leaning on his senior leaders for minutes. Brodeur played as many minutes as senior guard Jackson Donahue (31), a statistic that few would have expected entering the game.
Donahue, along with fellow senior guard Jake Silpe, were forced into increased minutes due to freshman Bryce Washington’s injury on Friday. Washington’s absence was exacerbated by junior Devon Goodman’s foul trouble; Goodman fouled out with just under three minutes left to play and sat with two fouls for much of the first half.
After the game, coach Donahue said he was unsure if Washington's injury would affect him next weekend.
Donahue shot poorly in the first half — he had zero points on four shots — but improved in the second half to finish in double-figures. His shooting, alongside classmate Antonio Woods’ helped spur a pair of runs that would win Penn the game. Woods made 4-of-10 threes in the game and provided a steadying presence on the court. The guard played all but one minute of the game.
“I thought Jackson Donahue brought great energy; he moved the ball, got open looks. Obviously, we consistently went back to AJ,” coach Donahue said. “And I thought Antonio Woods, in the second half, was terrific as well.”
After a Dartmouth three tied it out of the break, the Red and Blue went on a 14-0 run to reclaim the lead. A few minutes later, the Quakers went on another run, this time 13-0, to extend the lead beyond 20-points. Dartmouth (11-17, 2-10) slowly chipped away at that lead, but it was too little too late. The Quakers outscored the Big Green in the second half 38-27 en route to the win.
Coupled with Brown's win over Cornell, Penn remains a game back from fourth place in the League standings. However, due to the looming Saturday matchup against the Bears, the Quakers have a clearer path to the tournament.
If Penn wins out, the team is all but assured of a tournament berth, needing either a Brown win over Princeton or a Cornell loss to book its spot. However, if Penn loses to Yale on Friday, the Quakers would need to beat Brown and get outside help in the form of both a Brown loss to Princeton and at least one Cornell loss. If Cornell wins out and Brown loses out, Penn can still make the tournament, but it would need a win over an outright champion Yale team.
“I just told those guys, I think to think about all the scenarios and all that crap doesn’t matter. Somehow, we have to find it in ourselves to get better this week. I think we’re really close — we’re getting back to where we were,” coach Donahue said. “I think we played really well for long stretches, we just haven’t had the ability to get consistent on the offensive end and if we can do that, we’re a hard team to beat.”
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