They say basketball is a game of runs, and that could not have been more true tonight.
The Quakers solidified their place in the top two of the Ivy League and officially clinched a berth in the Ivy Tournament with a 75-70 win over Harvard on Friday.
The Red and Blue (19-5, 9-2 Ivy) seemed to be in trouble early after two quick turnovers allowed the Crimson (14-10, 7-4) to jump out to a six-point lead. Unfazed, the Red and Blue continued to play their game, scoring inside and off offensive rebounds during an eight-point run to take the lead.
After those two runs, both teams went back and forth for the remainder of the first half, leaving the Quakers with a slim 28-27 lead at the break.
"I really like the way we played the first half, we defended hard; we rebounded the ball well," coach Mike McLaughlin said.
The Quakers and Crimson were evenly matched up and down the stat sheet throughout the first half, with only a couple of players really sticking out. For Penn, senior guard Ashley Russell scored 11 points, often from driving inside and finishing contested layups. For Harvard, sophomore forward Jadyn Bush went right at the Quakers’ bigs, scoring nine efficient points inside and from mid-range.
Both teams continued to trade baskets early in the second half, but the Quakers were finally able to go on a run thanks to an and-one layup from sophomore guard Michae Jones — who had a career-high 19 points — and a slick finish in the post by sophomore center Eleah Parker. Harvard senior guard Madeline Raster, who had a scary fall earlier in the game, ended the initial run with her second three of the game.
"The second half was a grind. The third quarter was really smooth, and the fourth quarter we struggled," McLaughlin said.
In response, junior guard Phoebe Sterba got going, hitting three triples in a row to give the Red and Blue an 11-point lead with just over three minutes left in the third quarter. Sterba had no points coming into the third and she added a buzzer-beating jumper to make the Quakers' lead 10 going into the fourth quarter.
"I think we were struggling offensively [until the third quarter]. We weren't getting as many transition opportunities which really help to drive our offense," Sterba said.
While the Quakers fought to maintain their lead, Harvard stayed in the game by playing tough defense. A couple of second-chance threes from senior guard Nani Redford helped the Crimson tie it up with just under two minutes in the contest.
Facing a two-point deficit with just four seconds left, an air-balled three from Raster turned out to be a gift for the Crimson, as Bush corralled the miss and sank a layup to send the game to overtime.
"I think if the ball hits the rim we probably would have won [the game] in regulation," McLaughlin said.
In overtime, the Quakers were able to lock up on defense and hit foul shots consistently to secure the victory. This tight contest comes just two weeks after Harvard knocked off the Red and Blue in an 80-72 double-overtime thriller.
A tough moment for Penn on Friday came with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter when Russell went down after colliding with Redford driving to the hoop. Russell had to be helped off the court with an apparent ankle injury.
This would be a huge loss for the Quakers — both in terms of production and senior leadership — if Russell is sidelined for any significant amount of time. The Ivy Tournament is only two weeks away.
With or without Russell in the lineup, the Quakers will return to the court Saturday night where they will look to solidify their place at the top of the standings against Dartmouth.