In a historic four-year run, there is still time for more memories.
As Penn men’s basketball’s most successful senior class in recent memory enters its final Ivy League weekend, there is still an opportunity for the trio of Devon Goodman, Ryan Betley and AJ Brodeur to further etch their names in the history books. But no matter what happens, the group will leave Penn fans with lifelong memories. Looking back at four key games — one from each year — reveals how this crop of seniors developed into the stars they are today.
Freshman Year: Ivy League Tournament semifinal vs. Princeton
After starting Ivy League play 0-6, the Red and Blue seemed dead in the water early on, but a late push and five-game conference winning streak allowed the Quakers to sneak into the first-ever Ivy Tournament with a 6-8 record. On their home court, the Red and Blue drew a tough challenge in a Princeton team that finished the regular season undefeated in League play. Despite the long odds, the Quakers jumped out to an early advantage and held a lead for almost all of the game.
“Throughout the whole game, even as time began to wind down I was thinking we’re about to do this,” Brodeur said. “And then some defensive lapses and missed free throws, they started to just whittle away.”
After a crucial missed free throw from then senior Matt Howard, the Tigers were able to force overtime. The extra period was all Princeton, as the Tigers eventually came out with a 72-64 victory.
“As soon as overtime came around I remember so clearly, I was like, ‘Oh man, back to playing the game’ because we really thought we had it," Brodeur said.
While the young Quakers' inexperience hurt them down the stretch, the group used the crushing defeat as an opportunity for growth and appreciated the valuable playoff experience they received.
“It was my first real experience of a game with that much meaning. … It was such a new type of experience,” Brodeur said. “It gave us a great mantra and mentality moving forward. The whole next year, everyone had that chip on their shoulder.”
“We learned so much from that game,” Betley said. “It really showed us that we could not just compete with the best in our league, but in that environment anywhere.”
Sophomore Year: Ivy League Tournament final vs. Harvard
The following season, the Quakers hit the ground running in Ivy play, dropping just two games all season in conference and finishing tied for the regular season championship with Harvard, riding the first of Brodeur’s first team All-Ivy appearances, along with leading scorer Betley. Penn would eventually get a decisive matchup against the Crimson for the Ivy League title. After falling behind big early, the Quakers closed the first half on a run of their own, with Darnell Foreman’s buzzer-beating three sending the Quakers to the halftime locker room with the lead.
After the teams traded runs throughout the second half, the Quakers were eventually able to get a crucial three-pointers from Caleb Wood, whose big basket put the Quakers ahead for good.
“The place was so loud. We all knew how big of a shot that was,” Betley said.
The Quakers were able to do what they failed to do the season before, winning the free-throw battle and closing out the game. They claimed an NCAA Tournament berth as Harvard's game-tying three-point attempt fell short.
“I was running back to the bench while the shot was still in the air to tie the game,” Brodeur said. “I didn’t even know if the shot was going to go in, but I felt like the game was already won. … The Penn students stormed the court, Amy Gutmann came on the court, and I lifted her up.”
“It meant so much for our program. It showed our fans, our alumni, and everyone who has really invested in our program that we are to be reckoned with,” Betley said.
Junior Year: Upset of No. 17 Villanova
Now the defending Ivy League champions, the current group of seniors entered their junior year with high expectations. However, the team's repeat hopes took a hit when Betley suffered a season-ending leg injury just five minutes into the year. The Quakers soon rallied around Brodeur and emerging star Devon Goodman, entering a contest with defending national champion Villanova with just two losses on the season.
“We thought that we had a real chance as soon as the season started,” Brodeur said. “We knew they had a relatively young team and [that] we would be able to exploit that as an older, more mature team.”
Jumping out to an early lead, Penn never looked back, as strong shooting nights from Michael Wang, Antonio Woods, and Brodeur helped keep the defending national champions out of reach for most of the contest.
“Villanova is known for their tough style of play,” Brodeur said. “We really had a couple moments where we feel like we beat them at their own game. I remember a few times when Jake Silpe dove on the ball in a crowd of three or four Villanova players. It was plays like that I feel like elevated us to win that game.”
Despite late game heroics from Villanova star Phil Booth, his game tying three-pointer would fall short, and Penn students would have a reason to storm the court for the second consecutive season. The Quakers defeated their Philadelphia rivals for the first time since 2002.
“That Villanova game was electric,” Brodeur said. “We had a really strong student presence there. I think that made it way more fun.”
“It was hard not being out there for that one,” Betley said. “It was such a special night for our program. ... It was everything you dream about when you are a college basketball player.”
The Quakers would ride the momentum from their big win over Villanova and sweep the Big 5 schedule, claiming their first title since the 2001-02 season.
Senior Year: Opening-night win at Alabama
Entering their final season, the group of seniors prepared for a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to take on Alabama on opening night. Looking to make a statement, the Quakers came out of the gate trading blows with the Crimson Tide.
“That was a game I had been anticipating for a while. It was the first time I would be playing in a real game for so long,” Betley said. “I just wanted to go out there and put everything on the floor.”
Beyond the expected dominance of Brodeur, the game served as a passing of the torch of sorts, as the standout player on the evening was freshman Jordan Dingle. The rookie scored 24 points, the most ever in a Penn debut. Dingle iced his excellent performance with a game-winning layup to put Penn ahead with just seconds to go.
“It showed the younger guys at any given time [that] we can beat anyone in the country,” Betley said.
“A lot of people were wondering what the culture was going to be like now that we had a lot of our culture guys graduate from that senior class,” Brodeur said. “That we could take that winning mindset on the road to a Power Five school was huge.”
The win was also the first time this group of Quakers had defeated a major conference opponent on the road.
“It's a really unique experience going out there to a raucous gym like that,” Betley said. “You're really only out there with your teammates. It's really an us versus the world type of mentality. Those are the type of games you live for.”
Heading into the final weekend of their Ivy careers with an Ivy Tournament berth on the line, there is no doubt that this group of seniors has been battle tested every season of their careers. Only one question remains: What will be the final defining moment in an already historic run?
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