Down goes Bama.
In a fast-paced, back-and-forth contest on Tuesday night, Penn men’s basketball opened the season with an 81-80 victory against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Before the game there were a number of questions about who besides senior forward AJ Brodeur and senior guards Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley would earn the start for Penn (1-0). Just minutes before the opening whistle, coach Steve Donahue had an answer in freshman guard Jordan Dingle and junior guard Eddie Scott.
“I knew sometime within the past week [that I would be starting],” Dingle said. “I figured it out just by the way we were lining up at practice.”
Noticeably absent for Penn was sophomore forward Michael Wang, who did not travel with the team.
“He’s probably week-to-week with pretty severe tendinitis," Donahue said. “He hasn’t been able to practice for a week now."
The Red and Blue came out of the gates firing, as Scott knocked down a three on the team's first possession. Alabama (0-1) showcased the up-tempo style of new coach Nate Oats by playing at a frantic pace in the first half, but the Quakers proved they could hang with the Crimson Tide, going into the half tied at 35.
“We play fast as well, I’m just a little different in that I want to make sure we get a really good shot at the end, and pace is part of that,” Donahue said.
With the high tempo came a lot of turnovers, as both teams showed some early-season struggles holding onto the rock, combining for 30 turnovers. The Quakers also struggled getting rebounds, especially on the offensive glass, as Alabama hauled in 17 offensive rebounds to Penn’s eight.
Despite being undersized compared to the Alabama frontcourt, Brodeur showed why he is a two-time unanimous first team All-Ivy player, as he contributed 12 points and seven rebounds in the first half to go along with a dominant defensive outing that saw him collect three blocks.
“He’s our warrior, we feed off of him,” Donahue said. “He had an outstanding night defensively. I don’t know how many they gave him credit for but I thought he had seven or eight blocks.”
The Quakers started quickly again in the second half. A three-pointer from Brodeur sparked an 8-0 run after halftime, and the Red and Blue never looked back, riding on strong play from Brodeur, Betley, and Dingle. With this trio and a supporting cast, Penn was able to stave off a number of runs from the home side.
“We talked at halftime that we're an experienced team that has been through this, [and] they are a younger team trying to find their way,” Donahue said. “Coming out of halftime [strong] is always a sign that you are a good basketball team, and I thought that set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Dingle was especially impressive, as his 24 points marked a record for the most scored by a Penn freshman in a debut. The rookie helped to rally the Red and Blue when he took the ball away in transition and immediately nailed a three to put the Quakers up by four late in the game.
“Leading up to the game, I was a little bit nervous, but as soon as I got out on the floor and started shooting around with the older guys on the team I felt very comfortable,” Dingle said. “Seeing their crowd all energetic is the type of thing I live for and thrive on.”
Despite Penn leading for most of the second half, the Crimson Tide gave the Red and Blue a run for their money as the clock wound down. Riding the strong play of sophomore guard Kira Lewis, who finished with 30 points, the Tide were able to cut Penn's lead to just two with 40 seconds left.
After Brodeur missed a layup that would have seen Penn go up by four, Lewis nailed a three on the ensuing possession to send Alabama into the lead and the home crowd ablaze.
Needing a bucket to win the game, the Quakers went to Dingle, who hit a tightly contested layup to put the Red and Blue ahead with just six seconds to go.
“That wasn't the play that was drawn up," Dingle said. “We had a play that was drawn up for me but the guy denied me, so when I did get the ball too much time had already run off the clock and I just had to make a play.”
With Penn holding a one-point lead, Lewis was fouled on a drive with 2.4 seconds left and had a chance to put Alabama ahead with two free throws. With his team's fate on the line, the sophomore missed both attempts to ice the game and hand the Quakers the victory.
The win is Penn's second over a Power Five opponent in consecutive years, after topping Miami (Fla.) by a score of 89-75 at the Palestra last December.
The Quakers have opened their season with road wins for the second year running, and the team can now set its sights on getting off to another strong performance in its nonconference schedule to start the year.
For more basketball coverage, check out our 2019 Basketball Preview here.