The ashen look on Steve Donahue’s face after Friday night’s stunning loss to Columbia was the kind that signaled Penn’s entire season was on the verge of collapse.
His team’s mood was brighter on Saturday after a 68-50 win over Cornell at the Palestra, fueled by AJ Brodeur’s 17 points and Devon Goodman’s 16. But the Quakers (16-10, 4-6 Ivy League) still have a lot of work to do. They likely have to win all four of their remaining games, starting next weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth — a trip they haven’t swept in seven years.
If you were to judge by the first half of the game, you wouldn’t have much confidence. Penn led 22-10 with eight minutes, 4t seconds to go in the first half, and 27-19 with 4:44 remaining, but trailed 32-30 at halftime. As was the case in most of the last few games, the Quakers’ defense was more the issue than the offense: the Big Red (13-13, 5-5) hit seven of 14 three-point attempts.
“We’re not playing great offense - we’re not playing bad offense, but we’re not playing great - but more importantly, it affected our defense," Quakers coach Steve Donahue said. "To us, to me, if we’re going to continue to play well and win games, it’s going to be consistent defense. I thought we allowed poor offense at times to affect our defense, and I thought last night in particular we hung our heads.”
The second half was better: Penn held Cornell to just 1-of-8 three-point shooting and 7-of-23 shooting overall. But the score was close until the last few minutes. Matt Morgan, a leading candidate for Ivy League Player of the Year, hit a few big baskets as part of his game-high 21 points.
When Penn committed a shot clock violation up 54-48 with 4:56 to go, it felt like the sort of play that could change momentum. But right then, the Quakers found the fire at both ends that they’ve been missing. They got five straight stops and scored after each one: layups by Goodman, Antonio Woods and Max Rothschild, and free throws by Jake Silpe and Rothschild after fouls.
Woods sealed the deal with a three-pointer-and-one with 1:09 left.
“We really took ownership and made plays on both sides of the floor,” senior guard Jake Silpe said. “We came in with a chip on our shoulder [after the Columbia loss]. We were very angry.”