For a Penn team that started 0-6 in the Ivy League last season and had lost eight straight games to archrival Princeton, getting off to a strong start in the league opener Saturday against the Tigers was of the utmost importance.
Although they saw an 11-point second-half lead dwindle to two late, the Quakers got it done, getting key contributions down the stretch from AJ Brodeur and Antonio Woods to defeat Princeton, 76-70, at the Palestra.
Penn (10-5, 1-0 Ivy), which led most of the way, had a sense of déjà vu late, watching the Tigers (7-8, 0-1) trim the advantage to 70-68 on a conventional three-point play by freshman Sebastian Much with 1 minute, 37 seconds left.
After all, the Quakers never trailed in last year’s Ivy League tournament semifinal game against Princeton, but still lost in overtime.
“Yes, I did think that,” said junior center Max Rothschild, who contributed all 10 of his points in the second half and added six rebounds and five assists. “I was like, ‘OK, we’ve been in this position before, we know what to do.’ We’ve got veteran guys, some experienced leaders.”
Penn’s Darnell Foreman hit two free throws, but Devin Cannady, who led Princeton with 21 points, hit a drive to keep the margin at two with 50.4 seconds to play. Brodeur then knocked down a baseline hook with 29.4 seconds remaining for a 74-70 lead.
The Tigers came up empty on their next two possessions, and Woods iced it with two free throws. He and Brodeur accounted for 15 of the Quakers’ last 20 points.
Penn placed all five starters in double figures. Ryan Betley scored 19 points in the first half and finished with 21 after taking just two shots after halftime. Woods added 13, Brodeur 12 and Foreman 11.
“I think that’s the strength of our team,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “Who are we going to go to? I’m a big analytics guy. Nobody on our team has more than a 22 percent usage rate at the end of a possession. It’s not one guy having 35 or 40. I think that’s a good thing.
“Ryan was hot. Most of the stuff was off the doubling in the post in the first half. They were scrambling, and he took advantage of it. They didn’t double in the second half. I felt we hurt them in the low block with Max and AJ and cuts off of that.”
The Tigers, who went into the game shooting a league-leading 40.8 percent on three-pointers, were only 7 of 21 from deep.
“We weren’t sharp and Penn had a lot to do with that,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “I thought they were just aggressive. In this league, the more aggressive team tends to get it done.”