VILLANOVA, Pa. — The Quakers put a scare into Nova Nation again, but this time, they weren't able to pull off the upset.
Penn men’s basketball fell to No. 23 Villanova, 80-69, at Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night in its search for a second consecutive win over the Wildcats. Villanova’s athletic defense impacted the contest throughout the game, and the Quakers (5-4) weren’t able to generate enough offense to pull off a comeback.
Throughout the second half, the Quakers pushed the Wildcats (6-2), pulling within two points on several occasions, but Villanova was able to hold them off with all-around strong play from its highly-touted players.
"It was definitely challenging, and that’s what I love about these nonconference games is that when we play Villanova or Providence or Arizona, we’re going to see that type of athleticism that we don’t see in our League," senior forward AJ Brodeur said. "If we can stay down and guard those guys, it’s going to set us up great for when we get into our league."
The game started off with tight defense from both sides. The Quakers were able to contain the Wildcats early, as sophomore forward Saddiq Bey was the only Villanova player who scored in the opening 4:58.
Villanova began to take control after that with a 7-0 run, but after a momentum-changing three from freshman guard Jordan Dingle, the Red and Blue bounced back with an 8-0 stretch of their own to take back the lead. Solid passing and cuts to the basket were key for Penn throughout the half, and several baskets were generated through assisted layups early on.
Despite holding the Wildcats in check from behind the three-point line, where they only made four shots, the Quakers gave up some short-range baskets through layups and drives to the basket.
"With them, you’re foolish if you don’t think you’ve got to stop threes," coach Steve Donahue said. "We wanted what [we got], and we were hoping that was enough. But give them credit; they finished well."
Penn’s senior class once again powered the team in a hostile environment filled with energetic Villanova fans. Brodeur led the team with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists, and senior guard Ryan Betley, who was booed by the crowd every time he touched the ball, added 13 points of his own.
As the teams played through the latter portion of the half, the lead changed hands a few times as both teams converted key baskets. Bey caused problems for Penn with 27 points, and some late struggles on offense for the Quakers allowed the Wildcats to take a six-point lead heading into halftime.
"I thought they got in us pretty good for a stretch in the first half, and their length bothered us," Donahue said. "I thought we were tired [and] weren’t cutting like we needed to."
Villanova’s strong play on both sides of the ball continued early in the final 20 minutes, and they closed out a 13-3 run spanning both halves to take a 10-point lead.
However, the Red and Blue were able to fight back. Senior guard Devon Goodman came up with a big three that was followed by a steal and dunk to put Penn back in business. He and Dingle, who made a couple contested threes in the face of Villanova defenders, were able to spark the comeback.
"I thought we were in a great spot," Donahue said. "We were executing on offense almost every possession, getting great shots, getting layups."
The Quakers kept the game close, but they were unable to tie the game up in the second half. Each time Penn threatened, the Wildcats came up with a big play, with many of those coming from Bey.
With Villanova up seven points and threatening to pull away, Dingle hit an open three off an offensive rebound to set up a final push for the Quakers. However, the Wildcat defense held strong at the finish and was able to pull away in the final two minutes for the victory.
The game closed out a long road stretch for the Red and Blue, who have played eight of their first nine games away from the Palestra.
"We’ve played one home game, we’ve been all over this country, [and] we’ve had 5 a.m. wake-ups and red-eyes just to get these games," Donahue said.
After a break for finals, the Quakers will resume their schedule at home against Division III opponent Widener.