Penn’s monthlong homestand is finally over. And it couldn’t have gone much better.
Steve Donahue’s Quakers played the last of nine games in a row at the Palestra on Saturday night, a stretch that began on Dec. 27 with a win over Delaware State and culminated with a 59-50 win over Yale to cap off the first weekend of February.
By beating the Bulldogs, Penn improved to 15-6 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, sitting pretty and alone atop the Ancient Eight at this point in the season for the first time in over a decade.
As has become typical of the Quakers’ efforts this season, they did it on the defensive end, limiting the Bulldogs to 33.9 percent shooting (20 of 59) overall and just 1 of 19 from three-point range. It was a strong return to form for a Penn squad that had given up 90 points in an OT win against Brown the night before.
“We were saying in the locker room at halftime, ‘This game’s going to be about toughness,’ ” Penn junior forward Max Rothschild said. ” ‘The shots might not fall like they used to, like we want them to, but if we play defense and rebound, we’re going to win.’ ”
Rothschild finished with 10 points and eight rebounds as one of four Penn players in double figures. Caleb Wood paced the Quakers with 14, Antonio Woods added 13 and Ryan Betley chipped in 10 as the Quakers won their third game in a row and seven of nine during the homestand.
Yale (9-13, 2-4) was paced by a 20-point, 13-rebound effort from freshman forward Paul Atkinson.
By the time Penn travels to play archrival Princeton on Tuesday, it will have been nearly two months since the last time the Quakers had to play outside their home gym, when they beat Dayton on Dec. 9.
“I think the guys are hungry to get on the road, to be honest with you,” Donahue said. “Part of college basketball is loading up the bus, getting in there and being the villain, and going in there and playing. I think we’re looking forward to that.”
They had better be. Penn plays seven of its final nine regular-season games on the road, save for one final home Ivy League weekend against Dartmouth and Harvard on Feb. 23 and 24.
But if the Quakers can play well enough away from home to secure a top-four spot in the Ivy League – something they’re well on their way to accomplishing – they get the ultimate home-court advantage, in the Ivy League’s second playoffs at the Palestra in March.
Despite the way the season’s gone thus far for Penn, there’s still work to be done.
“I don’t think we’re a great basketball team right now,” Donahue said. “I think we’re good, I think we’re tough. I’d love us to take another step in the growth over the next five, six weeks.”