Penn throttled Yale from start to finish on Saturday, cruising to an 80-57 win in the Ivy League Tournament semifinal. The Quakers are now 40 minutes from their first NCAA tournament bid in 11 years, and everything is lined up in their favor heading into tomorrow’s championship game — the culmination of three years of improvement under Steve Donahue.
Offense? The Quakers scored in all sorts of ways, shredding a Yale defense that ranked as the league’s third-best in Ivy play. Their characteristic ball movement freed up ample opportunities in the paint, where they earned more than half of their points (including free throws) — a Max Rothschild backdoor cut to open the game; a ping-pong pass sequence started by Antonio Woods on the secondary break that led to an open layup later on. They also made tough shots when necessary — contested layups by Darnell Foreman; a fadeaway floater by Rothschild as the shot clock expired:
And their primary option, first-team All-Ivy forward AJ Brodeur, was unstoppable. Brodeur showed a few different skills — he hit an open three-pointer from the corner in the first half, then used that threat to pump-fake past Paul Atkinson and get him in foul trouble — but he did most of his work from the post, elevating over Yale’s forwards for easy points.
“Early on in the game, I found that I was being single-covered in the post, I was able to get to my go-to moves with relative ease,” Brodeur said. “Normally you expect a defensive change, like a double team — we’ve been great at passing out of it and making open shots out of that — but down the stretch I didn’t feel too much of a change defensively on Yale’s part.”
Defense? Penn’s calling card for most of the season, it struggled down the stretch of Ivy play — including at Yale, where it allowed 80 points on the final weekend. But the Quakers were on point Saturday, holding the Bulldogs to 0.79 points per possession. They particularly shut down star wing Miye Oni, who shot 0-10 in the first half and finished the game with only five points. With its first option taken away, Yale started pressing, yielding brick after brick in the first half to fall behind 44-25 at the break.
“He was definitely a big name on our scouting report, because he did a lot of damage to us last time we played him,” Brodeur said. “Our emphasis was to cut off his downhill drives to the basket, because we feel like that’s where he’s best, but also to get him off the three-point line, make him take contested twos.”
Depth? The Quakers first started pulling away when both teams’ starters took a breather midway through the first half, allowing Penn’s bench to shine while exposing Yale’s. Matt MacDonald found a three-point play along the baseline, Devon Goodman penetrated Yale’s defense, and Jackson Donahue even re-entered the rotation for meaningful minutes, showing (Steve) Donahue’s knack to always tinker with his rotation. Penn’s starters were plenty good enough to win, but it still showcased the league’s deepest bench.
Location? While the locker room and floor decal may be different, the Quakers are still in their home gym, The Palestra. And while all teams brought supporters to Saturday’s doubleheader (filling about three-quarters of the gym), Penn’s fans of course were the rowdiest — and they’ll only get rowdier for the championship with an NCAA bid on the line. The league is widely expected to move the tournament to a different location next year, so who knows when the Quakers will get another chance like this?
That’s not to say it will be easy — they’ll face top-seeded Harvard, which dismantled Cornell in the first semifinal. But Penn couldn’t ask for a better opportunity, as it is now firing on all cylinders.
On the flip side, almost nothing went right for the Bulldogs. Oni went back to his January form, posting his least efficient game of the season. (Against Ivy teams, Yale finished a perfect 9-0 when Oni scored double figures and 0-6 when he didn’t). They uncharacteristically blew several fast-break opportunities in the first half when the game was still competitive. And their three-point shooting failed them (just like in both regular-season meetings with Penn), as they went 5-25 from distance.
But although it ended on a sour note, the Bulldogs can look back on a rather successful season. Even after losing two starters a week before the season, even after a 2-4 start to Ivy play, Yale won seven of its last eight games and comfortably finished in the top half of the league for an 18th straight year. “I often went into games hoping that two of the best players on another team wouldn’t be playing — ‘I’d like to take him out, and I’ll take him out, and let’s lace them up and play.’ But that’s not the way it’s played, and no one that played Yale was feeling sorry for us,” Yale coach James Jones said.