NCAA

Jackson Donahue's game-winner propels Penn past Harvard, into Ivy League Tournament

usa-jackson-donahue-penn.jpg
USA Today Images

Jackson Donahue's game-winner propels Penn past Harvard, into Ivy League Tournament

BOX SCORE

Jackson Donahue began his pregame ritual Saturday night in a pretty inauspicious manner. 

The sophomore guard reared up for a halfcourt shot. He nearly got into a crouched position and then fired the ball.

Airball.

Donahue tried again, same form, same everything. 

Airball.

This is his ritual every game, take at least three halfcourt shots and try to make one. It's an hour before the game starts and he won't shoot again until the opening tip. One would think making this shot would be pretty important to get the right vibes before a must-win game.

So he gears up one last time, shooting the ball with near reckless abandon. 

Swish.

Donahue would take just one shot in the University of Pennsylvania's crucial home game against Harvard … and it just so happened to be the Quakers' biggest shot of the year. Donahue drained a long three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left off an assist from freshman Devon Goodman to hand Penn a 75-72 upset win over Harvard and save its season, clinching a berth in the inaugural four-team Ivy League Tournament (see Instant Replay). The thrilling shot sent the raucous Palestra crowd to its feet and culminated in the team running on the floor as Harvard's final tying attempt bricked out.

On Penn's final play, Harvard showed zone but quickly switched to man, albeit too late. Goodman came over a screen and found an open Donahue, who swished it from beyond NBA range.

"That shot down the stretch," Donahue said, "it was a great designed play and we knew someone was going to help somewhere and we were just going to try and find whoever made that mistake and Dev found me."

What did Donahue think of his shot?

"I knew it was good," he said, "I knew as soon as I caught it, it was good."

A loss would have ended the Red and Blue's season, but instead, they are ticketed for a pseudo home game in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament against arch-rival Princeton next Saturday. Princeton is undefeated in conference play and Harvard now stands at 18-9 (10-4 Ivy) while Penn is the clear underdog, standing at 13-14 (6-8 Ivy). 

Donahue was simply a non-factor for most of the back-and-forth affair between Harvard and Penn Saturday night. Fittingly, on Senior Night, the only fourth-year player in Penn's rotation stepped up with perhaps his best game. Matt Howard led an early run for Penn with the Quakers' first 11 points. Harvard soon weathered the storm, locking down Penn defensively and taking a 35-31 lead into halftime.

"I just wanted to come out here and be as aggressive as possible," Howard said of his start, "and just lead the team. That was my mindset pretty much."

After the half, it was an emotional roller coaster. Penn immediately reeled off a 10-2 run but Harvard soon had a 16-6 run to take a seven-point lead, the largest it held after the break. The Crimson theoretically had nothing to play for as they were locked into the No. 2 seed in the tournament. But coming off a similarly tense game with Princeton the night before, Harvard's pride kicked in. 

"It was our opportunity to keep getting better. We knew it was going to be a hell of a ballgame," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "We knew we were locked into a certain place -- we're proud of that -- but we recognized the level of competition we were going to see tonight."

The 16-6 run began with a fantastic assist by senior Siyani Chambers, who pumped his fist twice while yelling, showing that this game meant a lot to Harvard. After the run, it was a combination of youthful energy and veteran savvy that reinvigorated the Quakers. Penn scored 10 straight points and led nearly the rest of the way after freshman center A.J. Brodeur began with a strong move in the post.

Goodman picked up a clutch steal to cut it to one and then Howard scored four straight points. He would match Chambers seemingly basket for basket down the stretch as Penn clung to a narrow lead.

But up by two with just 30 seconds to go, Howard's sealing three rimmed out and Harvard tied it on a pair of free throws by freshman Bryce Aiken with 20 seconds left. Aiken was fouled by Darnell Foreman, which was his fifth and final personal.

So who does Penn send in with the season on the line? Donahue, who had sat for the preceding 10 minutes and 14 seconds. Most players would be unable to shake off the cobwebs and come into such a tense situation, yet the sophomore guard was fearless, just like on his halfcourt shots.

"I have a lot of confidence in him in general," Penn coach Steve Donahue said of bringing Jackson (no relation) in at the end. "I think he's at this level because he thinks he's really good, which is a positive. He's not necessarily someone who jumps out at you. 

"I trust that the moments aren't too big. That wasn't what I expected, I'll be honest. He was about a foot and a half in front of me and I'm like, 'No,' but as soon as it left his hand, it’s in. He's just that type of kid."

Howard finished with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds while Brodeur had 15 points and seven boards. On the other side, Chambers had 12 points and five assists while center Zena Edosomwan had 15 points, including a few ferocious dunks off the bench.

Donahue? Just three points on one shot in 13 minutes of playing time, but those three points were perhaps the most important three points Penn has seen in 10 years.

"It's just about staying ready," Jackson said of the situation. "Coach says it all the time. We talked about how we were going to need a lot out of more guys tonight and if that means taking less shots and not trying to force things, [so be it]."

After the game, Donahue was all smiles. Hoards of family, friends, Penn basketball alumni and others interrupted each other to get a piece of the night's hero. For nearly half an hour, players and coaches were strewn around the court, reveling in the exciting victory and Donahue, off to the side, was still the center of attention.

After starting 0-6 in Ivy play, Penn reeled off five wins before losing its last two in heartbreaking fashion. The loss to Dartmouth on Friday night put the Quakers behind the eight-ball, but they received help with Columbia losing and Cornell winning on Saturday. All of that made the Harvard win that much sweeter for the 4,451 in attendance as many stayed to congratulate the team.

Instead of greeting each other with goodbyes and hugs, there was one common refrain with the Quakers' hated rival looming: "See you Saturday."

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

usa-frank-nutile.jpg
USA Today Images

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

Temple (5-5, 3-3 AAC) vs. No. 15 UCF (9-0, 6-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, noon, ESPNU

Last time out
Temple beat Cincinnati, 35-24, last Friday.

UCF beat UConn, 49-24, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Both teams have a lot at stake in Saturday’s game. An Owls win would make them bowl eligible and give them a victory against a high-ranked opponent, which would certainly help when it comes time for bowl selection. On the other hand, UCF will look to preserve its perfect season and stay atop the AAC's East Division with a crucial matchup against 8-1 South Florida looming.

Frank Nutile, who will make his fourth consecutive start at quarterback, has sparked Temple’s offense. Since he stepped in, he has completed 61 of 89 passes for 803 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions, and led the Owls to two wins. He will need to continue his stellar play for Temple to beat UCF, which boasts the second-best total and scoring defense in the AAC, allowing 371 yards per game and 20.7 points per game.

The Knights also have the best total offense in the conference, putting up 538 yards per game and 48.6 points per game, which is more than six points better than the second-best team. The Owls must keep UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (2,720 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions) and the Knights' rushing attack, which averages 210.2 yards per game, in check if they want a chance at the upset.

Series history
The series is tied at 2-2 and Temple has won the past two matchups, including a 26-25 come-from-behind win last year.

What's next?
Temple travels to play Tulsa next Saturday.

UCF hosts No. 23 South Florida on Friday night.

Penn (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) vs. Cornell (3-6, 3-3 Ivy)
Franklin Field
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.


Last time out
Penn defeated Harvard, 23-6, last Saturday.

Cornell lost to Columbia, 18-8, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn has won its last three Ivy League contests and has gained a lot of momentum after losing its first three Ivy League games this season. Cornell shouldn’t pose much of a challenge to the Quakers since the Big Red are second worst in the conference in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency. The Quakers’ strength is their rushing attack, as they average 192 yards per game on the ground. Cornell’s rush defense is sixth in the conference, so look for the Quakers to take advantage of this matchup.

Series history
This is the 124th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 72-46-5 advantage and won, 42-20, last season. 

What's next?
This is the final game of the season for both teams.

Villanova (4-6, 2-5 CAA) vs. Delaware (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pennsylvania 
Saturday, 1 p.m.


Last time out
Villanova lost to Rhode Island, 20-6, last Saturday.

Delaware beat Albany, 22-3, last Saturday.

Scouting report
What stands out about this regular-season finale are the defenses for Delaware and Villanova. Delaware’s scoring defense is second to James Madison as the Blue Hens allow just 15.7 points per game. The Wildcats’ specialty on the defensive side of the football is their run defense. Villanova allows only 72 yards per game on the ground and will look to slow down a Delaware rushing attack that averages 200 yards per game. Also to note, the Blue Hens come in fighting for a berth in the FCS playoffs.

Series history
Villanova leads the series 28-21-1. The Wildcats won, 41-10, last season.

What's next?
This is the regular-season finale for both Villanova and Delaware. For the second time in the last three seasons, the Wildcats won't make the FCS playoffs.

Fastbreak Friday: La Salle looks to upset No. 20 Northwestern

Fastbreak Friday: La Salle looks to upset No. 20 Northwestern

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Note: Temple played Auburn at 11 a.m. on Friday in a game that started too early to include in this week's edition of Fastbreak Friday.

Lafayette (0-2) at No. 5 Villanova (2-0), Friday, 8 p.m. at PPL Center in Allentown
SK: 
Villanova makes the trip up the Northeast Extension to take on Lafayette in what is technically a home game for the Wildcats in a building located in their opponent's backyard. This will be the second meeting between these teams in a little over 12 months. Villanova beat Lafayette, 88-48, in the 2016-17 season opener last November.

Jay Wright's team is coming off a lopsided 113-77 win over Nicholls State on Tuesday. It was the program's highest point total in a game since 2003. Wright had some complaints concerning the Wildcats' defense following the game, but there wasn't much not to like about their offensive execution. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson combined for 60 points as Villanova shot 57 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point territory. 

Wright is utilizing a nine-man rotation that includes four freshmen. This is a deep and athletic Villanova team, but there will be some growing pains with so many first-year players taking on critical roles. Two members of that freshman class — starting center Omari Spellman and reserve guard Collin Gillespie — have had little trouble adjusting to the college game. Gillespie has been particularly impressive, averaging eight points and three assists in just over 18 minutes per game. The 2017 Philadelphia Catholic League Player of the Year is a steady ballhandler and passer with a smooth jump shot — he made four of 11 three-point attempts in the first two games of the season. 

Lafayette opened the season with losses at George Mason and NJIT. The 0-2 start comes on the heels of last season's 9-21 finish that saw the Leopards go 5-13 in Patriot League play. Lafayette is always well-coached under former Villanova star Fran O'Hanlon, but they don't have the talent to keep up with Villanova. Look for the Wildcats to roll on Friday night before things heat up next week at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.  

Villanova 85, Lafayette 60

La Salle (3-0) vs. No. 20 Northwestern (2-1), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. in Hall of Fame Classic in Connecticut
AF:
 The Explorers are 3-0 on the young season but it hasn’t been an easy undefeated start. Sure, Saint Peter’s wasn’t much of a test out of the gates, however, La Salle found some difficulty after that. It took two overtimes to finally put away Penn in the first Big 5 game of the year. Then Dr. John Giannini’s team saw a 20-point halftime lead evaporate at home Thursday night, letting South Alabama back into the game and winning by just eight points. 

B.J. Johnson has been as advertised for the Explorers. The senior transfer is everything they wanted and expected him to be: a scorer, a finisher and a leader. But he can’t do it by himself. La Salle needed all of his 30 points — 22 of them in the first half — to beat South Alabama. Guard-scoring hasn’t been an issue for La Salle in the past and that’s true once again. But getting some points in the paint and low block courtesy of a big man is something Giannini is really hoping Tony Washington can provide. 

I’ll tell you who could be a difference maker not only in this weekend’s game against Northwestern, but for the Explorers this season, Saul Phiri. He played 35 quality minutes Thursday night and was rewarded with a double-double, 14 points and 10 rebounds. On a team with plenty of guards, Phiri is still finding his way as a starter, but he could be a key contributor for La Salle to have a successful season. 

Funnily enough, Northwestern and La Salle shared an opponent already in Saint Peter’s. But unlike the Explorers, the Wildcats have already posted a loss this season, falling to Creighton this week. For more on that, check out our Fastbreak Friday video above. My co-author of this column will tell you all about the Big East.

Northwestern is ranked, though probably not for much longer if they play like they have in their first three games. They needed free throws late to hold off Loyola in their opener. 

If La Salle shoots well, there’s a chance they pull off the win in Connecticut. Northwestern’s defense got a workout with a very high-scoring Creighton team, so the game plan to beat the Wildcats has been laid out. But the Explorers will need all of their gunners and their big man to score well into double digits in this one. 

Northwestern 68, La Salle 64

Princeton (0-2) at Saint Joseph's (1-1), Saturday. 7 p.m.
SK:
You can forgive St. Joe's fans for thinking they can't catch a break. After losing their starting backcourt of Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble to season-ending injuries last season, the Hawks lost their best player Charlie Brown to a preseason wrist injury in October. Brown has yet to play this season. 

Then in the season-opener against Toledo, Kimble re-injured the same foot he fractured last season. Friday morning the school announced that Kimble is out for the remainder of the season as a result of the injury (see story). It's a devastating blow for the Hawks — Kimble is a team captain and terrific floor general.

Every team deals with injuries, but the Hawks have been downright ravaged by key players going down over the last 12 months. Phil Martelli's team has little choice but to soldier on. Without Brown and Kimble, St. Joe's pulled out a gritty 86-82 overtime win at UIC to even their season record at 1-1. James Demery was outstanding in the victory, scoring 25 points to go along with five rebounds and three steals. Freshman forward Taylor Funk added 22 points and nine rebounds. Funk has wasted no time making an impact -— averaging 19 points and 7.5 rebounds.  

The hope is Brown will be ready to rejoin the lineup in the near future. Even without Kimble, the Hawks will be a very difficult team to deal with once Brown returns. 

Princeton is a respectable 0-2 with losses to Butler and BYU. The Tigers are the defending Ivy League champs after winning 23 games a year ago. This is a very solid program that has proven they can play with anyone. I'd be surprised if Saturday's game isn't decided in the final minutes. But in the end, I'm banking on the Hawks figuring out a way to win in their home opener at Hagan Arena this season. 

Saint Joseph's 71, Princeton 69

PSU Brandywine (0-1) at Pennsylvania (1-2), Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
AF: 
The Quakers picked up their first win this week, dispatching Navy at the Palestra by 21 points. But it could’ve been a winning week if they would’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to take down La Salle and earn a Big 5 win in the process. 

Watching that game against La Salle, which I did on NBC Sports Philadelphia (shameless plug), you saw a spark in the Quakers that wasn’t present in the loss to Fairfield to start the season. Ryan Betley is definitely going to be the engine that makes this Penn squad go. But nice performances from Max Rothschild and Antonio Woods showed that there is some depth on this team.. 

But it was a cold night shooting, something that has plagued the Quakers in the past. Against the Explorers, Steve Donahue’s team was a woeful 34 percent from the field and just 25 percent from beyond the arc. Despite all of that, they were still in this game, forcing double overtime thanks to forcing La Salle into 17 turnovers. 

Defense and turning those miscues into points are going to be keys for Penn to beat teams this year and get back to the Ivy League Tournament. And if we learned anything from last year, this is a late-blooming team. So maybe if they figure out their scoring troubles early, they can set themselves up nicely for March. 

And this weekend’s opponent should help the Quakers find their shooting stroke. They welcome Penn State-Brandywine to the Palestra. It actually wraps up a brief home stand for Penn. The next eight games for the Quakers are on the road, not returning home until December 27th. But they will at least head out on the road on a winning note. 

Penn 77, PSU-Brandywine 63

Drexel (1-1) vs. Houston (1-0), Friday, 2:30 p.m. at Paradise Jam in Virginia
AF:
 Unfortunately, this game is not being held in its intended location. The Virgin Islands were ravaged by hurricanes this summer, so the Paradise Jam is taking place in Lynchburg, Virginia on the campus of Liberty University. As they say, the game must go on. On a humanitarian note, all tournament gate money will be donated to the U.S. Virgin Islands to help the recovery. So if you’re cruising around Appalachian, stop by and see some good basketball while helping a great cause. 

Drexel posted its first win earlier this week, beating Arcadia at the DAC. It was great to see the Dragons find their scoring groove, posting 95 points in the win. Also good to see, Tremaine Isabell. The transfer from Missouri tallied 15 of his 22 points in the second half and that’s something Zach Spiker has to like. And it should bode well for the Dragons as they get into the heart of their season. 

And speaking of scoring, Houston is no stranger to putting up points. In the Cougars' lone win of the season, they shot a blistering 69 percent in the first half and eventually put away McNeese State by nearly 30 points. Kelvin Sampson returns his top scorer a year ago in Rob Gray, who also led the American Athletic Conference with 20.6 points a game. To paraphrase Luke Walton who spoke about Joel Embiid, he’s gonna be a problem.  

Houston 85, Drexel 70

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 2-1
Amy Fadool: 0-2