On a night when the Penn fans sang “Happy Birthday” to the Palestra, Princeton all but blew out the candles on the Quakers’ postseason hopes.
The Tigers hit 14 three-pointers — including six by senior Spencer Weisz — and raced past Penn, 64-49, at the Palestra Tuesday night for an easy win, their seventh straight in the usually hard-fought rivalry (see Instant Replay). Weisz led all scorers with 22 points while junior Darnell Foreman paced the Quakers with 11 points.
The win kept 13-6 Princeton undefeated in Ivy League play at 6-0 while it dropped Penn to 7-12 (0-6 Ivy) and kept the Quakers mired in last place in the conference. Penn coach Steve Donahue doesn’t want his squad focusing on its record and highlighted the remaining stretch and room for improvement.
“There's a lot of basketball to be played,” Donahue said. “As much as we lost these games, I think we all feel that, in particular now that Princeton's out of the way, we can compete with anybody else in this league.”
In the first game between these two teams this season, Princeton raced out to a 22-point lead before Penn rattled off a barrage of three-pointers to tie the game before the Tigers pulled away. At the time, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson attributed the Quakers’ unexpected run to their transition offense, which opened up the three-point arc. With a similar double-digit lead at halftime, the Tigers were ready this time around and didn’t let the Quakers back into the game by forcing them into a half-court offense.
“They hurt us,” Henderson said of the first meeting. “We had a nice, big, comfortable lead in the first game and they came back and made some huge shots in transition, so that was a focus. We had to get that squared away.”
Tuesday was the 236th meeting between the two squads (Penn leads the all-time series, 124-112), but it had extra meaning beyond the normal conference implications. Penn celebrated the 90th year of the Palestra at the game as the arena opened on Jan. 1, 1927. The Penn band played “Happy Birthday” for the Cathedral of College Basketball and ticket prices were rolled back for students to 55 cents, the same price for that opening game in 1927.
“It's an incredible event to be a part of,” Donahue said. “Unfortunately, when you're coaching, you don't get to enjoy it as much as the rest of you. But I have an incredible appreciation for the arena and I'm very grateful that I'm the coach here and get this opportunity.”
The special event for the Palestra helped entice 6,215 fans, most of whom were cheering loudly for the Quakers. But the Tigers dominated the game after the first media timeout. Princeton took the lead for good early on with a 13-0 run to turn a 10-9 deficit into a 22-10 lead by holding Penn without a point for over 7½ minutes. Weisz got going in that stretch with two early threes and the Tigers were off from there.
Princeton kept Penn at arm’s length with its three-point shooting. Weisz hit four from deep in the first half while three teammates — Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell — all made two over the course of the game. A few of the shots banked in or rattled the rim, but the Tigers got all the bounces they needed. After the early 13-0 run, Penn didn’t get closer than nine points and trailed by as many as 20.
“They have great synergy with those older guys,” Donahue said of the Tigers. “They hadn't shot the ball well from three and I thought we challenged those early ones that got some bounces and the ball starts going in. They got contagious. They shot the heck out of it.”
The Quakers actually held the advantage down low, outscoring the Tigers, 28-14, in the paint. Freshman center A.J. Brodeur scored 10 points and grabbed a game-high six rebounds while sophomore Max Rothschild hit three early shots in the paint.
But Penn’s three-point shots wouldn’t fall as the Quakers struggled to find transition offense. Junior Sam Jones hit two threes in four attempts while the rest of team was 1 for 6 from range. Princeton made only three more shots than Penn but had 11 more treys, a key difference in the victory.
Now the Quakers are left in a situation in which they need to either win out or come close to doing so in order to reach the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, held this March 11-12 at the Palestra, and only includes the top four teams in the league. Donahue, however, has his eyes on Penn’s Friday game with Columbia and played down Penn’s current predicament.
“I think the tournament stuff is great,” Donahue said. “It’s great for the league, it’s great for you (the media). But for us, it’s pretty simple. We’ve got to get better each day, tomorrow, and figure out how we can compete on Friday.”