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Simone Sawyer drives to the paint for a layup vs. Dartmouth on Jan. 14, 2023.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Heading into Saturday’s contest, Penn women’s basketball had won its last 16 games against Dartmouth. For the past eight years, the Quakers defeated the Big Green twice per season like clockwork, and last season, Dartmouth proved just as hapless against the rest of the Ivy League, going a dreadful 0-14 against conference opponents. 

Neither of those streaks ended Saturday, as the Quakers rode a stifling second-half defense to a 53-39 win over the Big Green in Hanover, N.H. Following a loss to Columbia last weekend, Penn (9-6, 1-1 Ivy) picks up its first conference win of the season while Dartmouth (6-8, 0-2) continued its woes against Ivy foes. 

“Our team was very excited to get our first win,” freshman guard Mataya Gayle said. “We just wanted to bounce back from last week’s game, and I feel like we made the right adjustments … to allow us to fight back and take the win.”

Even though the final score may suggest a comfortable victory by Penn, it didn’t always seem that way for much of the first half. After plenty of back-and-forth play early in the contest, where Penn didn’t make a field goal for the game’s first three minutes before a three-pointer by junior guard Stina Almqvist, Dartmouth ultimately pulled ahead late in the first quarter. 

The Big Green held onto their lead for the rest of the first half, and ultimately were ahead on the scoreboard for nearly 17 of the first 20 minutes of play. They did so largely with defense, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half alone and converting them into 13 points. 

“We were a little stagnant, and they played a lot of zone,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “There was a little bit of a slower start, perhaps, in terms of scoring the ball in the first half.”

Beyond the turnovers, the Quakers struggled shooting the ball, going 10-29 from the field and 3-12 from three in the first half. 

One bright spot on the offense was Gayle, who scored eight points on an efficient 3-5 from the floor in the first half. Gayle would finish the game with seven rebounds and a team-high seven assists to complement her scoring. 

“It was really fun to see the energy pick up in the second half,” Gayle said. “People were running [and] making the right cuts and actions so [I just] made the right plays to hit them and get them open inside. We just all have a really good understanding of each other."

Another first-half advantage Penn held was on the boards, where the Quakers held a 24-14 edge, including a 9-4 lead in offensive rebounds. While Penn only converted these into seven second-chance points, they were enough to make up for slow shooting and keep the game close. Late in the second quarter, Dartmouth went on a scoring drought, allowing Penn to only be trailing 26-24 at halftime. 

After the break, things started to look up for the Quakers, and the shots started falling with a much-improved 8-16 clip during the third. Penn used plenty of off-ball movement to get good looks inside, and converted many of these layups into buckets, including an Almqvist and-one that gave Penn its largest lead of the game at 10 with under a minute left in the quarter. 

Meanwhile, on defense, Penn’s smothering effort meant that the Big Green shot just 3-14 from the floor in the second quarter. Dartmouth’s offense — which had scored 17 points in the first quarter alone — ground to a halt, scoring only 17 points in the second and third quarters combined. Overall, Penn turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 42-34 lead. 

“We started picking them up a little bit more in the full court,” McLaughlin said, explaining his halftime adjustments on defense. “We didn’t want them to come down and be set, so we tried to scramble the game a little bit … they actually created some open court layups for us on steals and turnovers. So I think credit to our team [as our] aggressiveness on that side of the ball just picked up when the game went on.”

This defensive effort held up throughout the fourth, as the Quakers kept the Big Green from scoring for the first nearly seven minutes of the quarter. On the other end of the floor, Penn kept scoring, building their lead to 14 on a shot by Almqvist. When the Big Green first saw the ball hit the net on a free throw with three minutes left to play, the game was well out of reach.

Overall, Dartmouth converted just five field goals throughout the second half, which allowed the Quakers to pull away to a 15-point win. Penn will next be in action Monday afternoon, when it faces Cornell at the Palestra at 2:00 p.m.