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

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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."

No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

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No. 14 Penn State's defense dominates Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Trace McSorley threw two touchdown passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth and No. 14 Penn State's defense set up two touchdowns with turnovers in a 20-7 victory over Rutgers on Saturday, sending the Scarlet Knights to their 10th straight loss.

McSorley's touchdown passes covered 6 yards in the second quarter and 18 in the fourth as the Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten, No. 14 CFP) beat Rutgers (1-10, 0-7) for the 12th straight time. Jake Pinegar added field goals of 22 and 19 yards.

The win was No. 30 for McSorley as a starter, making him the winningest quarterback in school history. The senior had been tied with Todd Blackledge (1980-82) and Tony Sacca (1988-91). The two touchdowns increased his total - running and passing - to 101.

Raheem Blacksheer scored on a 2-yard fourth-quarter run for Rutgers to deny Penn State its first shutout in more than a season.

The dominant group for Penn State was its defense, which forced three turnovers, had four sacks and 11 tackles for losses and held Rutgers to 46 yards passing.

Safety Garrett Taylor intercepted a horrible pass by freshman Art Sitkowski late in the second quarter to give the Nittany Lions the ball at the Rutgers 28. Four plays later, McSorley (17 of 37 for 183 yards) found Freiermuth for a 10-3 lead with 2:04 left in the half.

Senior Gio Rescigno replaced Sitkowski (3 of 7 for 18 yards and two interceptions) after the bad decision on the screen pass Penn State read from the start.

A Daniel Joseph recovery of an Isaih Pacheco fumble at the Rutgers 46 late in the third quarter set up the second TD pass early in the fourth for a 20-0 lead.

The Scarlet Knights should have scored in the third quarter. After moving 82 yards on 14 running plays, they ran a fourth-down flea flicker from the 2-yard line and a wide-open Rescigno dropped a soft pass from Trey Sneed, who had lined up outside and took a toss from Blackshear.

The takeaway

This was not an impressive performance by the Nittany Lions, who were hoping to move into a position for a possible New Year's Day bowl game. The offense never got going and the only reason it was no contest was the Penn State defense.

The Scarlet Knights are now facing the prospect of their first one-win season since going 1-11 in Greg Schiano's second season, in 2002. Rutgers was 0-11 in 1997, so this isn't rock bottom. The 10-game losing streak is the longest since losing 11 in a row over the end of the 1998-99 season.

Up next

Penn State: Plays host to Maryland next Saturday and then waits for a bowl bid.

Rutgers: Finishes season at Michigan State next Saturday.

Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

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Villanova routed by Michigan in national championship rematch

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Charles Matthews set the tone with a slam and celebrated by flexing to the crowd.

Quickly, the rematch turned into a rout.

Matthews scored 19 points, Ignas Brazdeikis had 18 and No. 18 Michigan beat No. 8 Villanova 73-46 Wednesday night in their first meeting since last season's national championship game.

Villanova captured its second title in three years with a 79-62 victory over Michigan in April but was completely overmatched in the second game at its newly renovated Pavilion.

"I don't think when I'm out there," Matthews said, explaining his emotional reaction to a basket less than 90 seconds into the game. "It was a fun, exciting game. I got the dunk and I screamed."

Eric Paschall scored 10 points and Phil Booth had nine for the Wildcats (2-1).

The Wolverines (3-0) jumped ahead early and never let up. They led 10-2 less than five minutes in and expanded the lead to 22-8 on Matthews' jumper midway through the opening half. A 17-3 run followed, giving Michigan a 39-13 lead. Matthews' dunk and consecutive 3-pointers from Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole highlighted the run.

Matthews capped the impressive first half with a steal and layup to send Michigan to the locker room with a 44-17 lead.

"I'm very impressed with Michigan," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "Really like their team, great togetherness, great execution. It's my fault I'm running a lot of guys out there. We're not as organized as we want to be. We're trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn't have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that."

Villanova's frustration was evident after Michigan's Zavier Simpson's flagrant foul led to a brief scuffle with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree near midcourt with 13 minutes remaining and Michigan leading 52-24.

The Wildcats couldn't make any push in the second half, and fans hit the road early.

"They executed way better than we were prepared to play defense," Booth said.

Neither team looked like the two squads who met in San Antonio seven months ago.

Villanova lost four players who were drafted in the first 33 picks of the NBA draft. AP Player of the Year Jalen Brunson plays for the Dallas Mavericks. Omari Spellman is with the Atlanta Hawks. Mikal Bridges landed in Phoenix after a draft-night trade with the 76ers, and Donte DiVincenzo — who scored 31 points in the title game — is with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Michigan lost three of its top four scorers. Moe Wagner, the star big man, was drafted by the Lakers in the first round and is playing in Germany. Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman graduated.

"They're a young team and they lost a lot of people," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "This is a November win. That's all it is. We have to learn from it, forget it and get ready for our next game."

Impressive freshman
Brazdeikis' teammates love his attitude and confidence on the floor.

"Iggy is like a mean pit bull," Simpson said.

The Finn
Bill Finneran, the Villanova alum who was the lead donor for the school's on-campus court that underwent a $65 million face-lift, was honored at halftime.

"The worst game you're going to see here," Finneran told the crowd.

Big picture
Michigan: Brazdeikis showed he can score against tough competition, performing well against top defender Paschall. Brazdeikis and Matthews give the Wolverines a formidable wing duo going forward.

Villanova: Showed its youth, giving Wright plenty of teaching points. The Wildcats relied on 3s the first two games, taking more shot attempts from beyond the arc than inside. They couldn't get them to fall from long range, going 3 for 15.

Up next
Michigan hosts George Washington on Saturday.

Villanova hosts Furman on Saturday.