With their backs against the wall, the Quakers showed up.
In a must-win situation, Penn men’s basketball jumped out to an early lead against Yale and never looked back, taking down the Bulldogs, 77-66. The win, coupled with a Brown win against Princeton, sets up a win-and-you're-in matchup on Saturday between the Quakers (18-11, 6-7 Ivy) and the Bears.
Right from the start, everything seemed to go the Quakers’ way. Junior forward AJ Brodeur picked up three steals and senior guard Antonio Woods poured in seven straight to open up a nine-point lead for Penn before the first media timeout. The two of them paced the Quakers the rest of the way, with Brodeur leading with 24 points and Woods finishing with 22.
“We were hungry for sure coming out today,” Brodeur said. “One of the issues with us this year is that we’ve never been great. We weren’t bad, but we were okay, and to win this league you’ve got to be great. I think today we started to show a little bit of that potential that we have in us.”
The Red and Blue took that hot start and continued to play well for the rest of the half. With Yale (19-7, 9-4) struggling to find open shots due to a suffocating Penn defense, the Quakers took advantage of the opportunities they had. Despite only outrebounding the Elis by four boards, Penn seemed to dominate the glass, and used the extra chances to pour in 10 second-chance points. All told, the Red and Blue finished the first half up by 16 points.
All throughout the game, Penn had the answer whenever Yale started to gather some momentum. In the first half, Woods hit a step back three to stop a Yale run, and junior guard Devon Goodman got a steal and a fast-break layup after big baskets from Yale. In the second half, it was offensive rebounds and outlet passes — mostly from senior guard Jake Silpe — that helped keep the Bulldogs at bay. And the whole way, the Quakers were able to limit the big fast-break buckets that plagued them in the first meeting.
The game evened out in the second half, with neither team able to go on a run. This time it was Brodeur who paced the Red and Blue, with 12 of his game-high 24 points, all of which came down low. Even when the Elis started to mount a bit of a comeback — nibbling at the lead little by little — they never made it that close. The nearest they ever got was 11 with the reserves on the court.
All around, this was one of the most complete games the Quakers have played all Ivy season. They shot 40.9 percent from three, made all 12 of their free throws, and capitalized on all of Yale’s mistakes while limiting their own. And while Yale guard Alex Copeland got his fair share with 19 points, the Quakers held junior Miye Oni, the second leading scorer in the Ivy League, to just two points on eight shots.
“I thought we played 40 great minutes of basketball on both sides,” coach Steve Donahue said.
That defensive effort didn’t just come from one player either. Everyone on the floor, from the team’s best defender in Woods to sophomore forward Jarrod Simmons, put in the work to ensure that every single shot was contested and that Yale’s powerful frontcourt couldn’t get any easy buckets.
“I think one of the things we had to do was to be able to help our teammates out … making sure that we guard them with five people, not just one person,” Simmons said.
“We have a lot of trust in him to guard even bigger guys than he is. He’s such a strong and skilled defender that we don’t doubt him for a second that he could guard anyone on the floor,” Brodeur added about Woods.
While this win keeps the Quakers alive in the hunt for the final spot, there’s still work to be done. It all comes down to Saturday night against Brown at 6 p.m. And Donahue said it best.
“Right now it’s halftime. We have 40 more minutes to play.”