In a game with serious Ivy Tournament seeding implications, Penn men’s basketball fell flat down the stretch.
On Saturday night, the Quakers lost to Harvard on the road in a game that they may want back in a few weeks. A win in this game would have tied the Red and Blue for third place in the Ivy League. As it stands, they’re on the outside looking in — with some serious work still to do.
Following a loss in a very winnable outing against Dartmouth, Penn (13-10, 5-5 Ivy) had an opportunity to rebound. They did their job early; star freshman guard Jordan Dingle began the game 4-for-4 from the field, including a spectacular and-one three pointer that got the Penn bench off its feet. The Quakers finished the first half 7-of-9 from the field and went into the break up by six.
Harvard (18-7, 7-3) made a run after halftime, and the Quakers saw their lead evaporate just five minutes into the second half. Keying the home side's run were sophomore guard Noah Kirkwood, senior big man Chris Lewis, and a strong team rebounding performance. Kirkwood, who finished with 19 points, made devastating step-back jump shots and shot an efficient 8-of-14 from the field. Lewis dominated in the paint, converting at an 80% rate on 10 attempts.
Perhaps most importantly, Harvard finished with 15 offensive rebounds to Penn’s six. Time and time again, they broke the Quakers' hearts by extending possessions with second-chance opportunities. They finished with 19 second-chance points. They secured their final offensive rebound with less than two minutes left in the game, which allowed them to waste valuable time and secure the win.
“Harvard was really aggressive attacking the rim. I think they kind of know who they are right now," coach Steve Donahue said. “They’re not a team that worries too much about execution. They play really hard, attack the rim, hope to get fouled, and if they don’t they get offensive rebounds."
Last year, senior star big man AJ Brodeur averaged 24.0 points in the three games against Harvard. This Saturday, he managed just 12. He struggled to assert himself, and despite shooting an efficient 50% from the field, he didn't get to the foul line a single time.
Coming into this weekend, Penn was in a difficult position in the Ivy standings, but still in control of its own destiny. Now, with just four games remaining, the Red and Blue will need some things to go their way to get into the Ivy tournament. Sitting in sole possession of fifth place, they’ll need to beat Yale on the road, and they’ll absolutely need to beat Brown on Feb. 29.
Making that more difficult is the absence of senior guard Ryan Betley, who had been a regular starter for the Quakers before suffering an injury. His presence was sorely missed in their loss to Harvard, and his status is unclear for next week.
“We’re hoping Ryan heals at some point over the next four [games]; it’s hard to tell,” Donahue said. “I think the freshmen have done a really good job over the last five weeks: Jordan [Dingle], Max [Martz], Lucas [Monroe]. There’s no freshmen that play that much in this league.”
Aiding their defeat today was the Harvard home floor; the Crimson haven’t lost in the Lavietes Pavilion in 378 days. The crowd was into the game — on their feet in the big moments — and the home-court advantage seemed to extend to the whistles. Penn shot just six free throws, while Harvard shot 16.
“I thought both teams really executed," Donahue said. “They were able to get to the foul line, and they hadn’t been shooting well and they did, so give them credit. That was the difference in the game."
The Quakers are fighting for their life after two big losses this weekend. Their next opportunity to turn their tide and earn a spot in the Ivy League Tournament comes next Friday at Yale. They’ll need a huge effort if they want a chance in the postseason.