On an afternoon when the University of Pennsylvania honored the 1978-1979 Final Four team, the present-day Quakers played more like the 2014-15 squad in a 62-53 defeat to their arch rivals from Princeton. In another game of sloppy offense and tenacious defense from both sides, the Tigers (9-5, 2-0 Ivy) prevailed on the strength of their rebounding and free throw shooting.
An AJ Brodeur jump shot in the paint capped a 12-1 Penn (10-6, 0-2) run, giving the Red & Blue a 20-10 lead with 6:55 left in the first half. The lid then seemed to close for the rest of the half for the Quakers as the Tigers bounced back with two 6-0 runs to finish the half tied at 27.
Brodeur put Penn on his shoulders in the beginning of the second half, scoring nine of the team’s first 11 points, including a three pointer and two consecutive free throws, to keep the Quakers within one at 39-38. Unfortunately for the Penn faithful, that would be the last points for the All-Ivy forward. With the Tigers up 46-45 with 8:30 left in the second half, Myles Stephens took charge, scoring eight straight points over the next four minutes to stretch the lead to 54-47.
Both teams went scoreless over the next three minutes, before Penn’s Bryce Washington hit a wide open three at the top of the arc to bring the Quakers within four with 1:36 remaining. On the next possession, Richmond Aririguzoh took a pass from Jerome Desrosiers and backed Brodeur to the hoop, as he hit the easy layup to give Princeton the 56-50 advantage. Antonio Woods drew a foul with just over a minute to go, but his missed free throw was rebounded by Aririguzoh. Another Tigers’ rebound, this one an offensive board off a Stephens jumper from the top of the key, essentially ended the game as Princeton won its fourth straight game and started off the Ivy slate at 2-0.
While both teams shot poorly from the field (Penn 33 percent overall and 29 percent from three; Princeton 32 percent overall and 19 percent from three), the Tigers bounced back from a poor 50 percent performance at the charity stripe last Saturday to make 19 of 21 shots this afternoon. The Quakers, meanwhile, continued their six-year struggles at the line, making only seven of 13. Even bigger for the Orange & Black was their absolute dominance on the boards. They not only outrebounded Penn 55-34, but they secured 85 percent of the Quakers missed shots and retrieved 37 percent of their own.
Brodeur ended with another strong line of 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks. While the 52 percent free throw shooter hit three of four chances on the afternoon, the Tigers defense forced him into a 6-for-17 (35 percent) effort from the field. Woods finished with 12 points on 5-for-11 shooting, but only managed a 1-for-4 effort from the free throw line. Michael Wang, who returned from an injured ankle to play 16 minutes against Princeton last week, played 23 weeks today, but only managed two points on seven shots.
For the victorious Tigers, Devin Cannady had another tough day shooting, going 4 for 18, but he totaled 20 points due to his 10-for-10 mark at the free throw line and snared 12 rebounds. Aririguzoh continued to show the Quakers and the rest of the Ivy League that he is a force to be reckoned with, registering 17 points and nine rebounds. Stephens also had another good performance, with 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double. On the troubling side for Princeton, four star first-year point guard Jaelin Llewellyn struggled again, going 1-for-9 for five points with zero assists.
Princeton will now head into Finals with a Jan. 27 game against Wesley before resuming league play at Columbia on Feb. 1. Penn will travel to cross-town rival Temple next Saturday in presumably their last meeting against former head coach Fran Dunphy. Following a home match against St. Joseph’s to finish their Big 5 schedule, the Quakers will start the dreaded Empire State weekend with a visit to Ithaca to take on Cornell.
A short month ago, Penn was making national headlines beating Villanova at home and New Mexico at The Pit. Since Wang went down early against Toledo with his ankle injury, the team has lost four in a row and look like a shell of the group that started the year 10-2. They withstood the sudden season-ending injury to second team All-Ivy guard, and team leading scorer, Ryan Betley, but their offense has not been able to handle a missing or less-than 100 percent Wang and Max Rothschild.
Over the last four games, the Quakers are hitting just 40 percent from two, 28 percent from three and 56 percent from the line. Without a fully capable Rothschild, the team’s signature ball movement has slowed, going from an assist rate of 58 percent in its first eleven Division I games to 43 percent during the present losing streak, Individually, the teams three leading scorers have shown some concerns. Brodeur is averaging an impressive 18.3 points during the four games, but he has only hit 11 of 23 (47 percent) from the free throw line. Woods is averaging 12.5 points, but he has only managed to score six of 19 from three (32 percent). Devon Goodman, who started the season averaging 14.7 points per game and shooting 39.6 percent from beyond the arc is down to eight points per game and 14 percent from three.
Luckily for Penn, this is not the first time they have dealt with this type of adversity during the Ivy Tournament era. Two years ago, the Quakers started the conference slate at 0-6, including a 64-49 loss at the Palestra that had coaches, players and fans questioning the team’s desire and abilities. From that point on, they went 6-2 to silence their critics and claim the fourth spot in the inaugural Ivy Madness. Hopefully for the Red & Blue faithful, this year’s group just needs a few weeks of rest to get back their mojo from the league’s first month and a half in order to challenge for the regular season and tournament titles.
If not, it will be a long eight weeks in West Philly.