Yale men’s basketball fell to Penn by less than a dozen points Friday night at the Palestra, but the final score did not reflect the game’s true deficit, one that spoke more to each side’s effort rather than figures on the final box score.
Fighting for a spot in Ivy Madness, the Quakers (18–11, 6–7 Ivy) led for more than 37 minutes in the one-sided contest, benefitting from the veteran leadership of guard Antonio Woods and forward AJ Brodeur while significantly outmatching the intensity which Yale (19–7, 9–4) brought to Philadelphia. The defeat at Penn marked the Elis’ first time dropping back-to-back games since falling consecutively to Memphis and Vermont in November.
When asked to identify one thing that specifically disappointed him after the game, head coach James Jones — who appeared angry with his team throughout the contest — answered with unusual brevity but did not mince words.
“Our energy and our effort was not where it needed to be to win a college basketball game,” Jones said.
Penn out-rebounded Yale 32–30, translating four first-half offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points compared to the Bulldogs’ two in the first 20 minutes. Guard Alex Copeland ’19 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19 were the only two Elis to score in double figures, tallying 19 and 11 points respectively, and the Quakers locked down the remainder of Yale’s key contributors. Guard Miye Oni ’20, who shot one of eight from the field, scored a career-low two points and added only two rebounds.
The Quakers’ fiery play emerged from necessity. As both teams went through shoot around at the Palestra roughly 100 minutes before tip off, most others in the gym, including members of the media, assistant coaches and managers, watched the Brown-Princeton game on horizontally-oriented smartphones and laptops. Brown took the 4 p.m. contest 67–63, moving the Bears one game closer to Ivy Madness. With the Tiger defeat, a Penn loss to Yale would have eliminated the Quakers from Ivy Madness contention. Instead, their 11-point victory sets up an epic win-or-go home matchup against Brown, seeking its first-ever spot in the conference tournament, tomorrow night.
“[Brown-Princeton] was an earlier game, so we had been getting updates on our phones, but we knew regardless of how that game went that tonight was a must-win for us,” Brodeur said. “Just to give us the edge we need for tomorrow’s game [against Brown] because no matter what, however it went down, if we wanted to get [to Ivy Madness], we got to win tomorrow.”
Once the ball had tipped in Philadelphia following a short ceremony to honor the Quakers’ senior managers, Yale opened the contest sluggishly. The Elis surrendered four early turnovers and struggled to move the ball on offense, failing to tally their first assist until the 5:12 mark of the first half. Oni found Copeland on that play for the Bulldogs’ first three-pointer of the night, and while the senior point guard would miss only one other shot for the rest of the half, Yale could not threaten a Penn lead that grew to as many as 19 in the frame.
From the game’s opening whistle, the Quakers, played with active hands and an eye towards the post, working the ball inside with precision. Brodeur and Woods each hit five of their first eight shot attempts, combining for 27 points in the frame. At the media timeout with 7:48 to play, Penn owned a 17-point lead, having limited the Elis to six of 19 shooting from the field, including an 0–6 mark from downtown, to go into halftime leading 46–30.
“We tried to work on our ball screen defense, getting over the top of screens,” Jones said. “We went underneath [screens] and that gave Woods some threes he made in the first half, at least two of them. We gave up four offensive rebounds, and they scored on each of them… so those are the two areas that we tried to do a better job of. On the first play of the second half they got an offensive rebound, they scored a layup, and then they had another one later in the half, so our energy and our effort rebounding the ball and playing together was not there, and that’s why you lose a basketball game.”
Jones seemed bewildered for much of the first half, gawking at players in disappointed disbelief as they walked back to the bench during media timeouts and other breaks in play. Alongside his staff, the 307-win coach looked visibly angry during the first stoppage in the second half.
About five minutes later, a fast-break slam from Quaker guard Devon Goodman brought fans at the Palestra to their feet and increased Penn’s lead to 21, its largest of the game. The Bulldogs fared better from deep in the second half, drilling 9 of their 17 three-point attempts in an attempt to cut into Penn’s lead.
Jones removed every starter from the game with more than four minutes to play, and interestingly, only then did the Bulldogs execute a minor comeback. Yale rode a combined 15 points from guard Eric Monroe ’20 and forward Austin Williams ’20 against Penn’s starting five to decrease the Quaker advantage from 17 with a little less than four minutes to play to 11 when the final buzzer sounded.
Brodeur received a standing ovation from the home crowd when he sat with 1:39 to play. The 6-foot-8 First Team All-Ivy forward finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. Fans applauded Woods, removed from the game just 15 seconds, in similar fashion. With poise and direction in the first half, the senior spearheaded Penn’s early run, finishing with 22 points.
“I think the beauty of Antonio [Woods] is he’s never really high and he’s never really low, just kind of plays in the moment,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said. “So when the stakes are high, whether that’s end of game, end of clock, he just seems to rise to the occasion.”
Despite Yale’s loss, the consequences may be limited. Cornell defeated Harvard for the second time this season in a 72–59 decision in Ithaca, keeping Yale’s conference record identical to its archrival’s.
A victory tomorrow night against Princeton (16–10, 8–5) would still guarantee the Elis at least a share of the 2019 Ivy League Regular Season Championship.
William McCormack | firstname.lastname@example.org