WICHITA, Kan. – It was all going so well early for Penn. The Quakers were controlling the tempo, making three-pointers, and, most of all, silencing the mostly partisan Kansas crowd.
Then the shots stopped falling and Devonte’ Graham started playing up to his Big 12 player-of-the-year form.
With Graham totaling 29 points, six rebounds, and six assists, top-seeded Kansas defeated No. 16 Penn, 76-60, in an opening-round NCAA Midwest Regional game Thursday at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Quakers (24-9) end a season in which they shared the regular-season Ivy League title with Harvard and beat the Crimson in an epic league-championship game to earn their first NCAA berth since 2007.
Penn also scared the daylights out of one of college basketball’s signature programs, one making its 29th straight NCAA appearance.
“This was no 16-point game,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “It was much closer than that.”
Since 1985, when the NCAA first included a No. 16 seed, the lower seed has never defeated a No. 1. Early on, Penn appeared on the verge of making history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys and how we played and competed and did everything I would hope,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said.
After Antonio Woods’ driving layup with 8 minutes, 35 seconds left in the first half extended Penn’s lead to 21-11, Kansas began playing like a top seed. The Jayhawks (28-7) closed out the half on a 22-5 run for a 33-26 advantage at intermission. In doing so, they got the crowd in the arena back. The court is just 2 1/2 hours from their campus.
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Early in the game, Graham was getting by Penn’s defense with relative ease but wasn’t finishing. For the game Graham shot 9 for 24, but many of the misses came in the first part of the first half
“I just wasn’t finishing, not making my shots that I usually make,” Graham said.
That all changed as he rediscovered his jumper. During that 22-5 run he scored 15 of his 19 first-half points.
For most of the first half, Graham was guarded by Penn point guard Darnell Foreman.
When Graham changed, so did Kansas.
“He was able to finish at the rim,” Foreman said of Graham. “So again, just a credit to him, just in a sense of taking over.”
The Quakers trailed by 50-37 with 14 minutes, 34 seconds left in the second half on a jumper by Syi Mykhailiuk, but got to within 52-48 when Caleb Wood hit a three-pointer with 11:23. left. From there, Kansas slowly pulled away.
Penn simply got worn down by the Jayhawks’ athleticism.
“The difference between Ivy League teams and Kansas is that Kansas has long, athletic dudes, they have guys who can make shots at such a high volume, and I think that is where we had to defend at such an elite level and we fell a little bit short there,” said sophomore forward A.J. Brodeur, who had 14 points, sharing team scoring honors with Wood.
The Quakers entered the game shooting just 66 percent from the foul line and they were let down in this area, hitting just 5 of 14, including one of their first eight. Conversely, Kansas hit 15 of 17 free throws.
But in the end, the Jayhawks had too much size, depth, quickness, and Graham for the Quakers to handle.
“They got size inside, but the thing hardest to go against is the pace they play at with the athletes they have,” Donahue said. “They have three to four wings who are really fresh and athletic, and I thought that wore us down, and when we got open shots late in the game we just didn’t have our legs.”
Among those wings was dangerous 6-foot-5 junior Lagerald Vick, who had 14 points, hitting 5 of 7 from the field.
The Quakers, who were 13-15 a season ago, certainly return to Philadelphia with their heads held high and their basketball future bright. Among rotation players, Foreman and Wood must be replaced, but the Quakers have a relatively young nucleus and the goal is be playing in mid-March next year.
“It is encouraging to know how far we have come and how far we have to go, and the sky is the limit for us,” Brodeur said. “We will be back.”