PHILADELPHIA– If it wasn’t already, Penn’s chances of reaching the Ivy League Conference Tournament are at an all-time low.
An opportunity to be within one game of fourth place in the Ivy League presented itself for the Quakers on Friday night at the Palestra as they took on lea celler-dweller Columbia, who came into Friday night’s game losers of their last six and 1-7 overall in league play.
As if a dogfight with the last place team in the league wasn’t bad enough, the Quakers would find themselves playing in their third consecutive overtime game and for the second straight game, they came out on the wrong end of things. The Quakers would fall to the Lions 79-77.
With 1.4 seconds remaining in overtime and the score tied at 77, Columbia had an inbound play under Penn’s basket where Columbia guard Maka Ellis kissed the ball off the glass and into the hoop. A half-court heave from Penn guard Devon Goodman at the buzzer hit off the top of the backboard, though they would have to go to the monitor to see if it counted had it gone in.
“Give Columbia credit, they made the play at the end of the game.” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said.
It’s really been a Jekyll and Hyde season for the Quakers as their non-conference record is 12-4 with wins over Villanova, Miami, and at Temple. Included in that is a clean sweep of the Big 5.
But you look at that and then you look at their 3-6 record in Ivy League play and there’s clearly a contrast between the two.
“I think like most leagues, these guys know each other pretty well but in this league, once you get older kids, the maturity level is off the charts, the coachability is off the charts,” Donahue said. “I think with some of these teams, they’ve been able to execute down the stretch, I think we’ve been okay but not great but when you play Miami, they don’t know Michael Wang and his ability to shoot and this league does.”
While the Ivy League has always been known to play a “retro” style of basketball, focusing more on fundamentals than high-flying dunks and crossovers that you would see in the more modern game, their ability to master the basics of the game is what always makes them a threat in the NCAA Tournament. That and experience.
“It’s a very old league,” Donahue said. “34 out of 40 starters are back from last year, we have seven teams in the top 200, right now, Dartmouth is better in the NET than La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, it may be hard to understand that but that’s the difference, these teams are really good so you got to play well.”
Donahue mentioned how experience matters in the Ivy League. Using that information, Donahue decided to go with junior guard Ray Jerome, a guy that averages 6.6 mpg and 1.7 ppg, over freshman guard Bryce Washington, who is third on the team in mpg. Washington got the start, but only played eight minutes whereas Jerome came off the bench and played 29.
Jerome finished with a career-high 11 points, going 4-7 from the field and 3-6 from deep to go along with three rebounds and two assists.
“Ray Jerome is someone that’s really worked hard and he’s had some injuries in his career but he’s someone over the last two months, he didn’t get hurt, he had a lacerated Kidney after the Temple game, he’s played well,” Donahue said. “I think he understands the league a little bit better and at this point, in this level of competition, he was better for us.”
Senior guard Antonio Woods led the Quakers with 16 points as well as a team-high eight rebounds and five assists. Junior forward A.J. Brodeur was held scoreless in the first half, but scored all of his 13 points in the second half. He also chipped in with five rebounds and seven assists.
With a chance to pull themselves to within one game of fourth place Cornell with a win Friday night, the Quakers dropped down to sixth and two games out of fourth place Cornell, though Saturday’s game at the Palestra is against Cornell.
Even with a win over Cornell on Saturday, Penn would still need some help from other teams to find their way into the top four with just five games remaining. Three of the five are against teams that are currently in the top four.
“We’re good,” Donahue said. “But we have to play well every night to be players in this league, not ‘okay’.”