Penn Quakers

Penn proves to be serious players for Ivy — and Big 5

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Penn proves to be serious players for Ivy — and Big 5

BOX SCORE

AJ Brodeur has an interesting way of looking at the Penn basketball program.

Even though the Quakers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since he was in elementary school, the sophomore forward doesn’t consider the last decade of struggles the norm.

Instead, he believes Penn has always been the dominant program that’s captured 13 Big 5 titles and 25 Ivy League championships — but none since 2007.

“It’s more getting back to our roots,” Brodeur said after the Quakers improved to 13-6 with a 67-56 win over St. Joe’s Saturday night (see observations). “Penn is obviously a very successful program in our history. Every program is not gonna be perfect forever. There are ups and downs and hopefully, we’re on the upswing now.”

Thanks in large part to Brodeur, the Quakers are most certainly on the rise. Consider: the 13 victories they’ve amassed to this point would have matched or surpassed their win total for an entire season in all but one campaign since 2006-2007. 

And after handling the Hawks in their final non-conference game of the season, the Quakers enter the bulk of their league slate as a legitimate favorite to return to the top of the Ivy League after 11 years of looking up at the league champ.

“I have a great vision for this program,” said third-year head coach Steve Donahue, “and what I think we can do at Penn.”

Few people know better than Donahue the heights that Penn can reach. He was a Quakers assistant throughout the 1990s when Penn won five Ivy titles and its last NCAA Tournament game (in 1994, over Nebraska). And later, as head coach of Cornell, he showed again what an Ivy team can do on the national stage, taking the Big Red to the 2010 Sweet 16.

Back in those days too, the Quakers were far more competitive in the Big 5, winning three city series titles in the 1990s and enjoying a perfect run through the city in 2001-02. 

And so, avoiding a winless Big 5 season with Saturday’s impressive showing vs. St. Joe’s was both a relief and a timely confidence boost, especially after last Saturday’s loss to Temple at an equally crowded Palestra.

“There are not many places in college basketball you can play a non-league game in front of 9,000 fans,” Donahue said. “This just doesn’t happen.”

The fans were certainly out in full force Saturday night, filling the corners of the old gym with St. Joe’s students and Penn students occupying opposite sides. 

But Hawks fans had little to cheer about in the end as St. Joe’s struggled to hit shots when it mattered, shooting 30.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range for the game.

“We struggled this week on offense,” longtime St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “It’s a struggle. I think for the first time Thursday I could feel the team felt sorry for themselves. We put everything into Wednesday night and couldn’t get their spirit lifted.”

Wednesday night was when the Hawks let the chance of an upset slip away in the final minute at St. Bonaventure, one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10. Returning to Philly and preparing on short rest for Penn — without injured stars, Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown — was no easy task.

“Rest was a big part of this game,” Donahue said. “They don’t have great depth and we have depth. And we’re sitting here all week getting ready for this game.”

Penn’s depth and balance were certainly on display Saturday. Even with seven players in street clothes, the Quakers still managed to dress 14 players, with eight different ones scoring.

And it was no surprise Brodeur led the way with 13 points and 11 rebounds, including two offensive boards on one second-half possession that led to a critical three-pointer from fellow sophomore Ryan Betley (10 points).

“Villanova has most of the best players in the city but if there was a pickup game, Brodeur is getting picked,” Martelli said. “And that’s not true of everybody. All of us aren’t getting a guy picked but they would get him picked.”

While Brodeur and Betley give the Quakers a nice offensive tandem, Donahue was most proud of the team’s defense — both on Saturday, as they held the Hawks to 56 points, and throughout the season.

He pointed to a few impressive defensive stats, including the fact Penn has given up the fewest amount of assists in the country. The Quakers are also 21st in three-point field goal defense and 10th in defensive rebounds per game.

“Now we’re trying to get better on offense,” the Penn coach said. “We had open looks but we’re not there yet on that part. We’re trying to figure out the best answer for us on offense.”

One of those answers on offense, he hopes, is junior point guard Jake Silpe, who’s been given important minutes over the last two games after playing only 35 total minutes in the previous 17 contests. Another could be sharpshooter Sam Jones, who hit a three Saturday for his first points in a month.

Whatever the case is, though, it’s become clear Penn finally has the horses to once again be both a serious player in the Ivy League and, of course, the city.

“We’re definitely a different team from last year,” Brodeur said. “You can see how gritty you have to be to pull out Big 5 wins in front of a packed Palestra. They’re our most attended games we have all season, and we’re poised on the big stage and performing well.”

Penn's miracle upset bid implodes in second half

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Penn's miracle upset bid implodes in second half

BOX SCORE

WICHITA, Kan. — Devonte Graham kept driving to the rim, using his deft crossover and blinding first step to get past Penn's defenders, only to watch every shot he put up bounce out.

He turned to teammate Malik Newman and said, "Man, I'm just not finishing."

Newman's reply: "Keep being aggressive."

Graham evidently listened.

The Big 12 player of the year finally started to get his shots to go, igniting sluggish Kansas midway through the first half and finishing with 29 points, lifting the top-seeded Jayhawks to a tough, grind-it-out 76-60 victory over the Quakers in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Lagerald Vick added 14 points for the Jayhawks (28-7), who trailed the Ivy League champs by 10 in the early stages Thursday before going on a 19-2 run late in the half to take control.

Graham, perhaps atoning for a dismal performance in last year's tournament loss to Oregon, also had six rebounds and six assists as the Jayhawks cruised into a second-round matchup with eighth-seeded Seton Hall — which beat North Carolina State — in the loaded Midwest Region.

"We didn't play well offensively the first half. We stunk," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "It's hard for us to play well offensively if we don't make shots because we don't have a big guy to throw it into right now. The way they defended us, we needed a guard to take it on himself to get downhill."

Graham stepped up to the task.

"He was just keeping everybody's heads right," Vick said. "He told us we weren't going to lose."

A.J. Brodeur had 14 points to lead the Quakers (24-9), but he was just 6 of 16 from the field and committed five turnovers. He was also 1 of 5 from the foul line, where Penn was 5 of 14 as a team.

"Give Kansas a ton of credit. Thought they played a terrific game," Penn coach Steve Donahue said. "It was a great basketball game for about 35 minutes. Then they finished us off."

The Jayhawks played most of the way without 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, who hurt a ligament in his left knee in practice last week. The sophomore center played three minutes, all in the first half, and struggled to move around while wearing a bulky brace on his leg.

Newman, the MVP of last week's Big 12 Tournament, and Svi Mykhailiuk scored 10 points apiece for Kansas, which won its 12th consecutive NCAA opener — and avoided some ignominious history.

Trying to succeed where 132 other No. 16 seeds had failed, the Quakers raced to a 21-11 lead with about 7 minutes left in the first half. They leaned on their stingy perimeter defense to limit the hot-shooting Jayhawks' 3-point barrage, and their pick-and-roll offense was humming.

It took the Big 12 player of the year to restore some order.

Graham picked the pocket of Caleb Wood on defense, trailed a fast-break play and was there to lay in Mykhailiuk's missed layup, trigging what would become a 19-2 run over the next six minutes.

Graham added back-to-back baskets at the rim, then knocked down a pair of 3s later in the run. He capped his 19-point first-half barrage by drawing a foul as the Quakers were attempted to give a foul away, then hitting all three foul shots.

That gave the Big 12 champions a 33-26 lead heading into the locker room.

Penn hung around until midway through the second half, when the bigger, stronger Jayhawks began to assert control. Their veteran backcourt did most of the work, slowly drawing away.

"Credit to Graham, he realized what was going on in the game. He has a great feel for the game," Penn's Darnell Foreman said. "Knowing he's a senior, he had to step up and force the tone and create and he did a great job of that."

More on Doke
Self said Azubuike could have played "five or six minutes," but he wasn't needed in the second half. The hope is to get him to 80 percent in practice Friday and play more regular minutes Saturday.

Big picture
Penn was one of the top 3-point defenders in the nation, and the Jayhawks missed eight of their first nine attempts. But Kansas still went 7 of 17 for the game, and each of those 3s seemed to come whenever Penn was threatening to make a run.

Kansas only got four points from its bench, a big concern going forward. The Jayhawks have used a short lineup all season, made even shorter by Azubuike's absence. But teams with little depth tend to wear down in the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Up next
Penn is headed for the offseason while the Jayhawks, who made their first appearance in Wichita since 1992, will face Seton Hall on Saturday.

Penn makes it 2 Big 5 teams in the NCAA Tourney

Penn makes it 2 Big 5 teams in the NCAA Tourney

Darnell Foreman scored 19 points, AJ Brodeur had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Penn earned its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007 with a 68-65 win over Harvard in the Ivy League Tournament title game Sunday.

Ryan Betley added 17 points for the Quakers (24-8), who will be making their 24th appearance in the NCAAs.

Senior Caleb Wood, a junior college transfer, drilled two straight 3-pointers, getting fouled on the second, to put Penn ahead 63-60 with 3:42 remaining. Betley followed with a 3-point play, before Harvard's Christian Juzang pulled the Crimson to 66-63 with a 3-pointer with 47.6 seconds to go.

Harvard trimmed Penn's lead to 66-65 on two Justin Bassey foul shots with 14.6 seconds left. But after Betley hit two free throws, Bassey and Juzang both missed potentially game-tying threes in the final seconds, and Penn fans stormed the court for a celebration a decade in the making.

Chris Lewis led Harvard (18-13) with 16 points, while Bassey had 15 and Seth Towns, the league's player of the year, finished with 13.

Harvard and Penn proved to be the top two teams in the Ivies this year after sharing the regular-season title with 12-2 conference records and then dominating Cornell and Yale, respectively, in Saturday's Ivy League Tournament semifinal games.

And after splitting their two regular-season meetings, both teams traded punches like heavyweight fighters in front of a packed crowd at the Palestra, Penn's home gym.

Fueled by a 16-0 run in which Penn was held scoreless for seven minutes, Harvard led 30-17 with five minutes left in the first half. That's when the Quakers turned things around, closing the first half on a 17-2 run capped by a Foreman 3-pointer right before the buzzer. Foreman, who sprinted right into the locker room as the Palestra crowd went wild, scored his 19 points all in the first half.

The Quakers continued to surge after the break, with sophomore standouts Brodeur and Betley combining to score the first 11 points of the first half to put the Quakers ahead 45-32 and complete a 28-2 run spanning halves.

Trailing by 10 midway through the second half, Harvard reeled off a 13-0 run to take a 58-55 lead, sparked by 3-point plays from Bassey and Juzang.

Once a staple of the NCAA Tournament, Penn went to the tourney seven times between 1999 and 2007 before falling on hard times, due in large part to the rise of Harvard.

Big picture
Harvard: Despite Sunday's result, the Crimson continue to be the class of the Ivies with Tommy Amaker at the helm, having won six Ivy League championships since 2011 with NCAA Tournament wins in 2013 and 2014.

Penn: The Quakers have made a speedy turnaround under third-year coach Steve Donahue. And with only two key players graduating and several underclassmen returning from injury, they should be poised to remain at the top of the Ivies next season and beyond.

Up next
Harvard receives an automatic berth in the NIT by virtue of its top seed in the Ivies.

Penn is headed to the NCAA Tournament.