The Quakers just couldn't put it together on the offensive end.
Penn men’s basketball came up short once again, losing by a score of 59-53 at Harvard, in a game that was bereft of much offensive entertainment.
Both Penn (16-11, 4-7 Ivy) and the Crimson (15-9, 8-3) missed each of their first three shots to start the contest, which would be a recurring theme as the two teams never settled into any sort of offensive rhythm. Highlighting this in the first half was poor efficiency by both teams from range: The Red and Blue went 4-for-13, while Harvard was 4-of-14.
The defense, on the other hand, showed up to the game for both teams. On display was a full-court pressure scheme that coach Steve Donahue occasionally pulled out, which made it tough for the Crimson guards to advance the ball up the court. The Harvard defense, however, was also up to the task, and each team committed 14 turnovers on the night.
With their suffocating team defense, the Red and Blue were largely able to nullify the threat of Harvard junior guard Bryce Aiken, who dropped 28 against them in their last meeting, which included a game-tying three with five seconds to go in regulation. This time around, Aiken's first basket came with 2:56 to go in the first half. He would finish the game with 12 points — significantly lower than his season average of 21.8 per game — on 3-for-12 shooting. Donahue had high praise for junior guard Devon Goodman, who was tasked with guarding the Harvard star for much of the night.
“Goodman’s just an excellent defender,” Donahue said. “I think he really knows how to guard Aiken, and he did a great job making it more difficult for him. Our help defense on him was good as well.”
However, Harvard would compensate for Aiken’s low production with a balanced scoring effort, with four players scoring in double figures. By pushing the pace in transition and getting easy buckets, the Crimson were able to begin the second half on an 8-0 run to take a lead they would never relinquish. The Crimson also regained their shooting touch, going 11-for-22 from the field — and 5-for-6 from three-point range — in the second half.
“I thought that was a big stretch, because that was the first time I thought our defense let [Harvard] off, and we played a little tight after that. But give Harvard credit, when they had open shots, they made them count,” Donahue said.
Penn was led by the play of junior forward AJ Brodeur. Following up on his 23-point effort against Cornell last weekend, Brodeur scored Penn’s first seven points of the game and finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, The big man also shot 2-for-2 from long range and made his presence felt in every facet of the game.
“[AJ] did everything he could,” Donahue said. “I thought he made good decisions with the ball, they were really physical with him and I thought he still played terrific. I put him in almost all game, and he was terrific as usual.”
Together with Goodman, the two juniors would combine for 39 of Penn’s 53 points, but poor production from the rest of the lineup gave Penn a mountain to climb.
Another 9-2 run by Harvard would push their lead up to 54-46 at the 6:22 mark, but the home side would not get a sniff at the basket for more than five minutes after that. On the other end of the court, the Quakers’ three turnovers during that same stretch, coupled with a Goodman layup attempt that went halfway down before spinning out of the basket, meant that they would once again come up short against the Crimson.
“I thought we moved the ball fairly well,” Donahue said. “But we just missed a lot of open shots. It was a great chance [for us] to win, but we just didn’t shoot the ball well enough to win the game.”
With Brown and Cornell — who are ahead of Penn in fourth-place in the Ivy League — both registering loses this evening, the Quakers — in sixth-place — are still within striking distance of getting into the Ivy League Tournament. However, Donahue knows his team cannot just rely on Brown and Cornell to drop games — they will have to win their own ones as well.
“I just think we’re going to have to do what we do,” Donahue said. “Stay confident, stay together, and try to play a little bit better on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a challenge, and [we’re] just going to be ready to go.”
The margin for error has gotten even slimmer for the Red and Blue, as they will look to bounce back against Dartmouth on Saturday night.