Or, would you prefer Quakers over Oats?
Penn traveled down to Tuscaloosa on Tuesday night, upsetting Alabama and ruining the debut of new Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats.
The Red & Blue’s starting lineup was anchored by a trio of All-Ivies with AJ Brodeur down low, Devon Goodman at the point and Ryan Betley on the wing. Betley saw his first action since going down to a season-ending injury five minutes into last season’s opener at George Mason.
Many expected the lineup to be completed by sophomores Bryce Washington and Michael Wang, who started a combined 31 games in their rookie seasons. With the 6’10” Wang back in Philly dealing with severe tendinitis, coach Steve Donahue elected to go with 6’6″ junior guard Eddie Scott, who averaged 2.1 points and 6.5 minutes in 28 appearances in his first two years. Despite averaging 7.5 points per game and shooting 40% from three in his first year, the coach elected to bring Washington off the bench and start go rookie Jordan Dingle.
The Tide raced out to a quick 11-6 advantage over the first three minutes, but Penn scored the next seven points in the next 90 seconds to take a one-point lead. With the game knotted at 22, there was a scary moment for both teams as Betley drove to the hoop on a breakaway and was blocked by Alabama captain Herbert Jones. Both players hit the ground, with Jones crashing down on the Penn senior. Betley came out for a few seconds, while Jones injured his elbow and left the game.
AL.com reported that Jones’s MRI came back negative and he is expected back for the Tide’s next game against FAU.
After several lead changes, Bama took control and held a 33-27 lead with 4:15 left in the half. The Quakers battled back again, going on a 12-2 run to enter the locker room tied at 35.
Penn carried that momentum into the second half, scoring the first eight points.
“We talked at halftime that we’re an experienced team that has been through this, [and] they are a younger team trying to find their way,” Donahue told the Daily Pennsylvanian. “Coming out of halftime [strong] is always a sign that you are a good basketball team, and I thought that set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Bama cut the Penn lead to three around the 14-minute mark, but the Quakers held strong. When Betley hit a three from the right elbow at the 7:40 mark, Penn went up 66-57, its largest lead of the night.
The Quakers were ahead 70-61 when the Tide made their move, eventually tying the game at 77 on an driving dunk by Alex Reese with 2:20 remaining in regulation.
With Penn back up 79-77 and a minute to go, Scott secured a rebound off a missed three and had the ball knocked out of bounds by Alabama’s James “Beetle” Bolden. After a lengthy review, the referees announced the ball somehow went out of bounds off both players and gave it to the Tide, which had the possession arrow in its favor.
Seconds later Bolden challenged Brodeur under the basket and missed a layup, but John Petty, Jr. was there for the put back slam. The refs called offensive goaltending and upheld their call following another lengthy review.
On the next possession, Dingle found an open Brodeur in the middle of the lane, but the big man hit the front of the rim. The Tide raced down and Jaden Shackelford missed an uncontested three from the left baseline. The rebound was tipped to the top of the three point line, where Kira Lewis, Jr. sank the basket to give Alabama its first lead of the second half.
Down 80-79 with 15 seconds left, the Quakers inbounded to Betley, who gave it to Dingle at the top of the key. The rookie drove to the left side of the lane, but he was completely covered by Bolden. Instead of passing it out, Dingle shot a fall-away jumper that hit the bottom of the net to put Penn back up one with 7.5 seconds remaining.
“That wasn’t the play that was drawn up,” Dingle said, per the DP. “We had a play that was drawn up for me but the guy denied me, so when I did get the ball too much time had already run off the clock and I just had to make a play.”
Coming out of a timeout, Lewis took the ball at the baseline and sprinted towards the basket. As he was about to pass Betley and get to the hoop, a trailing Goodman tripped Lewis and was called for the foul. Lewis, who had a career-high 30 points on the night, went to the line with 2.4 seconds looking for the win, or at least overtime.
The first hit the back of the rim and bounced out. The second clanked off the front of the rim and the rebound was captured by Betley who passed it to Scott at the baseline as the clock hit zero.
“It’s tough to lose like that, but you just have to keep moving forward,” Lewis told the Crimson White student paper. “After this, I’m going to have to go shoot some free throws because I just can’t live with not making free throws at the end of the game.”
Dingle justified Donahue’s confidence in the rookie, as he had a team-high 24 points (9-for-16) to go along with seven rebounds, good for the highest scoring total ever by a rookie in his debut in school history, topping Brodeur’s 23 at Robert Morris in Nov. 2016.
Brodeur, playing as the lone forward against a SEC frontcourt, had his typical first team All-Ivy night with 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. In his first game back, Betley showed no hesitation as he logged 34 minutes and scored 12.
The victory, the program’s first-ever win against an SEC opponent in its home arena, was a small bit of payback for the 91-85 overtime loss inflicted on the Quakers by the Antonio McDyess-led Tide in the first round of the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
(That game was 24 years ago, but two members of the this year’s Quakers team were involved in that game. Steve Donahue was an assistant coach, working on Fran Dunphy’s staff, and present assistant coach Nat Graham was a reserve.)
After night one of the college basketball season, Penn has triumphed at the home of the Crimson Tide of Alabama. As pleased as the team and its fans should be with the win, the goal remains the same, to finish the season with a victory at the home of the Crimson of Harvard on March 15 in the Ivy League Tournament.