NEW YORK – For the last eight years, Levien Gymnasium has been a house of horrors for the University of Pennsylvania. Penn men’s basketball had lost seven of the last eight at Columbia, including five straight. There have been blowouts, ejections and a couple of photo finishes that went the home team’s way.
So when the Lions jumped out to a 17-6 lead, it followed an unsurprising trend.
“We definitely started off slow,” Penn sophomore Devon Goodman said. “They hit us first.”
Unlike previous seasons, the Quakers hit back, in large part thanks to a career night from Goodman, who scored a career-high 23 points with five assists and five boards. Add that to an impressive second half and an 18-0 run down the stretch and the Red and Blue staged a comeback to win 74-62 over the Light Blue on Friday night.
The Quakers moved to 18-7 (8-1 Ivy), clinching their first winning record in the Ancient Eight since 2012. Meanwhile, the Lions fell to 6-16, 3-6 in conference with just five games left.
The slow start on Friday forced coach Steve Donahue to quickly utilize his reserves, starting with Caleb Wood and Jake Silpe. On some nights, that might have done the trick, but the Lions soon added to their lead.
So Donahue called on Goodman, who had played just 33 minutes in Ivy play and just six in the last month. The sophomore guard didn’t play during the Dartmouth-Harvard weekend and was on the scout team in practice this week.
The move would pay quick dividends with Goodman draining a three en route to a 18-point first half.
“He’s a kid [Goodman] — he works all the time,” Donahue said. “He’s played well in practice, and we had him on the scout team being [Columbia guard Mike] Smith, and we had a hard time guarding him.
“And I just sensed that he’s fresh right now, he’s a good player, and these guys do a great job of not losing their confidence and their mojo and being positive. So when they’re called on, they don’t miss a beat.”
After settling for jumpers early, the Quakers began to attack inside with AJ Brodeur able to do some damage, slowly chipping away at Columbia’s lead. In previous years, Penn may have dug itself too much of a hole or simply not had the fight to make a comeback. But with Goodman providing a spark, the team made its way back into the game.
Columbia was not to be outdone in the opening half though. Nate Hickman and Mike Smith engineered the offense to provide consistent pressure of the Quakers and the duo were able to combine to make shots at just the right time to hold off Penn runs.
With 45 seconds to go in the half, the Lions extended the lead back to eight points, but Goodman scored five in the last 40 seconds to make it three before the half.
“They didn’t guard me as much at the [three-point line],” Goodman said. “and I can shoot the three, so that’s what I did and I just stayed aggressive the whole time.”
Despite a quick Penn run to take the lead in the opening minutes of the second half, Smith, Hickman and a dash of Quinton Adlesh kept Columbia ahead going into the final seven minutes.
That’s when Penn took over.
Goodman drained a three after going cold to start the second and put Penn ahead with a scoop layup. After another stop, Wood knocked down a trey and the run was on.
From the 7:05 mark to the 1:46 mark, Penn used an 18-0 run to put the game away. The uakers relied on some overbearing defense led by a four-guard offense (Goodman, Silpe, Darnell Foreman and Antonio Woods) around Brodeur to shut down the Lions’ offense. They forced 11 turnovers in the second half, helping keep them in the game before pouncing on mistakes towards the end.
It was a unique look, one enabled not just by Goodman’s play but also the speed and basketball know-how on the court.
“They’re tough. They’re not your typical guards,” Donahue said of his four-guard lineup. “They all guard, they’re smart … I can’t give you the blueprint of here’s what it’s going to be like tomorrow night against Cornell, but the beauty is, I have a lot of resources to draw from and they’re all ready. And that’s a credit to these guys.
On offense throughout the game, Penn was able to backdoor cut Columbia into oblivion. Goodman mentioned postgame that the scouting report on the Lions was that they would overplay, so the cuts were available. Using their guards’ driving skills, the Quakers cut into the teeth of Columbia’s defense and found their way to easy layups. Other times, they’d push it after a stop and put pressure on Columbia’s defense. All that helped the Quakers to a 43-point second half and a win.
While Brodeur finished with 14 points, Penn’s leading scorer, Ryan Betley, was mostly silent, not scoring until the final minute of the game. But the bench provided more than enough for the Quakers.
“It’s just a fun group to coach because we’re not your typical first-place team,” Donahue said. “It doesn’t matter every night how it gets done. It’s kind of different. The consistent thing has been defense.”
This game really was different. Wood made three treys en route to 16 points. Not too unusual. Matt MacDonald was a pest defensively, forcing three steals and picking up five rebounds. Silpe dished out four assists as well. All not too unexpected.
Yet the night belonged to Goodman, Penn’s leader in points, rebounds and assists just a week after he was relegated to a couple DNP-CDs.
“No disrespect to him, but he wasn’t a focal point of our scouting report,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “That’s why they’re in first place – they get contributions from guys, and when their best player, Betley, was 1-8 for 2 points, he was able to pick them up. I think that’s something for us to learn from.”
From here, the Quakers and Lions have a chance to pounce on some tired opponents with Cornell and Princeton going to triple OT on Friday night. While the Lions need the win to stay in Ivy tournament contention, the Quakers more want to prove themselves and sweep the NY Ivy weekeend for the first time in half a dozen years.
But on Friday, they proved themselves just fine, taking a punch or two before delivering a knockout.