NEW HAVEN, Conn. — “How are you, coach?”
“Tremendous,” he deadpanned.
Penn men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue was feeling anything but tremendous. His team had just utterly collapsed moments before, turning a 10-point lead with less than two minutes remaining into a three-point loss.
Some stats from that last minute and thirty-nine seconds: Zero points scored. Thirteen points allowed. Seven turnovers. Two reviews at the monitor. One astounding loss.
It was probably the worst minute and a half Penn basketball has played under Donahue, and the coach could feel it.
Donahue temporarily let his guard slip when asked if Penn prepared for the full-court press.
The outburst was over as quick as it started — it feels disingenuous to even call it one — and Donahue immediately apologized with an explanation.
I’m not at all upset that Donahue reacted that way, and nobody should be. Hearing Donahue’s passion put a smile on my face. I would hope that a coach would be upset after an end-game failure like that, and I would hope that passion inspired his players.
“We just didn’t do a good job,” Donahue said. “We practice beating the press every week. It’s just, unfortunately, the kids didn’t do a good job. And then when we had a chance — that time we did break it and AJ [Brodeur] got it, they made a great play, blocked it, and it goes off us.”
Seven turnovers in less than two minutes is egregious — and can’t be blamed solely on the coach. The difficulty inbounding the ball was less because players weren’t schemed open and more because players literally dropped the ball.
But it’s also on Donahue that Penn wasn’t better prepared for that final stretch. The team was clearly panicking, and one play was all that was needed to preserve the win. One bucket would have been enough to stem the tide. One play. (Interestingly, Donahue went away from the football route-inspired inbounds play used with success all season long.)
The biggest shame about that ending is what it overshadows. It came in a game where senior forward AJ Brodeur became the player with the most starts in program history, reached 900 rebounds (the first Penn player to do so since the mid-1950s), and moved into second in all-time scoring. It also came in a game where Penn played Ivy champion-level basketball for 38 minutes — to the coach’s and team’s shared credit.
Those narratives were erased by the result.
“Like a lot of things, the end is the most important,” Donahue said. “We had a chance to finish them, and we didn’t do that.”
The loss reveals how far below expectations Penn has performed this season. Jointly picked Ivy favorites with Harvard, Penn finds itself with a losing conference record in the penultimate Ivy weekend, on the outside looking in at the Ivy Tournament. Injuries and difficulties outside of the team’s control are important to acknowledge, but anything short of an Ivy Tournament berth should be marked as a failure for this program — in any season.
That last point is also the silver lining in this story. As embarrassing as the fail at Yale was, it has relatively little effect on the Quakers’ conference tournament hopes. As Donahue noted, even a win would still have required a win at Brown on Saturday for all practical purposes.
Penn’s path forward is simple: Beat a reeling Brown team in what is now an elimination game is the required first step. After that, Penn simply needs to beat or match Brown’s results next weekend. In all but the most extreme scenarios, a tie with the Bears in the standings would be enough for the Quakers to squeak into the postseason.
Donahue suggested that playing good Penn basketball was enough to beat Brown. It should have been enough to beat Yale too.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College senior from Pittsburgh and a Senior Sports Reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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