After then-sophomore guard Jackson Donahue hit his first shot of the game with 6.3 seconds left in Penn’s regular season finale against Harvard, the Quakers earned the hard-fought 75-72 victory, completed an improbable comeback in league play and secured the final spot in the inaugural Ivy Tournament.
One week later, Penn, playing on its home court as the No. 4 seed, held a two-point lead over top-rated Princeton with 12 seconds left. Unfortunately for the Quakers, then-senior Matt Howard missed the front end of a one-and-one and the Tigers tied the game with 5.3 seconds left, sending the contest into overtime. Princeton dominated the extra period, ending Penn’s up-and-down, yet ultimately successful 2016-17 season.
Following a three-game win streak, including a road victory against UCF of the AAC, Penn was 6-5 heading into its league opener at Princeton. Despite an improbable 21-point second-half comeback in that game, the Quakers lost by nine. This started an overall eight-game losing streak that left Penn at 0-6 in Ivy action. Noting the team’s dispirited play, many Ivy fans (including this writer) felt the Quakers season was done. Coach Steve Donahue (no relation to Jackson) and his team ignored the naysayers, going 6-2 the rest of the way to take fourth place in the conference.
Honorable mention All-Ivy Matt Howard (28 starts, 30.0 minutes, 12.5 points, and 6.8 rebounds per game) is the only player lost from last year’s team. This year’s team will be led by sophomore forward AJ Brodeur (rhymes with “motor”), who earned second-team All-Ivy honors with 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Sophomore wing Ryan Betley, who missed the first eight games of last season, averaged 11.9 points per game for the year and 17.8 per contest in his last eight games. Senior Darnell Foreman, who became the starting point guard in 21 of the team’s last 24 games, was third in the conference with a 2.0 assists-to-turnover ratio and sixth with 3.4 assists per game.
The Quakers will welcome back junior point guard Antonio Woods, who was declared academically ineligible just prior to conference play in 2016. While the Cincinnati native missed the next year and a half on the court, he did return to the university in the winter of 2017. In the first 13 games of 2015-2016, he averaged 30.9 minutes, 10.7 points, and 3.3 assists per game. In addition to Woods, Penn will see the arrival of four first-years, led by Jarrod Simmons, a three-star 6’ 9” power forward from Crescent, Pa. who averaged 19.1 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.8 blocks and 3.4 assists his senior year at Moon Area High School, Eddie Scott, a 2.5-star 6’ 5” guard/forward from Gonzaga High School of Washington, D.C., and Jelani Williams, a two-star 6’ 5” shooting guard from Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. who has been Scott’s AAU teammate since they were both 13.
On Friday, Penn Athletics released the team’s 2017-18 schedule. The Quakers’ will face all of their Big 5 rivals with home games against La Salle, St. Joe’s and Temple, in addition to a historic first-ever meeting with Villanova at the Wildcats’ Jake Nevin Field House. Penn will face two teams each from the Patriot League (Navy and Lafayette), MAAC (Fairfield and Monmouth), MAC (Northern Illinois and Toledo), and MEAC (Howard and Delaware State). In addition to Philly’s Owls and Explorers, Penn will face fellow A-10 member Dayton.
Penn will also take part in the mid-major Gulf Coast Showcase tournament during Thanksgiving week. The Quakers will face Division III Penn State-Brandywine at the Palestra to open the tournament on November 18. Then, the team will head to Estero, Fla., to take on Northern Illinois on the 20th. The next day, they will face Florida Atlantic from Conference USA or Towson from the CAA. On the tournament’s last day, Penn will face one of four teams from the opposing bracket: Missouri State from the MVC, Georgia Southern from the Sun Belt, Manhattan from the MAAC, or UMKC from the WAC.
The Red and Blue will start Ivy play on January 5 at home against the defending champs. This will be the earliest matchup against Princeton since 1980. The following weekend, the men’s and women’s teams will host doubleheaders against Cornell and Columbia. The Quakers will return to league action on February 2 and 3 for two more home games against Brown and Yale. On Tuesday the 6th, Penn will begin a five-game road trip visiting the Tigers, Big Green, Crimson, Lions and Big Red. Penn will welcome Dartmouth to the Palestra on the 23rd and host Harvard for Senior Night on the 24th. On March 2nd and 3rd, the Quakers will travel north to close out the regular season against the Elis and the Bears.
After taking 20 games for coach Donahue to settle on a starting lineup, Penn responded with a second half of conference play that justified its preseason fourth place selection by the Ivy League media. If the Quakers can quickly solidify its rotation, and get strong performances from its sophomore stars, as well as steady play from its experienced point guards, avoidance of another 0-6 start and a second straight Ivy Tournament appearance are good possibilities.