Devon Goodman (above) was one of three impressive Penn freshmen in a win over Cornell. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
It’s taken Steve Donahue the better part of two seasons, but a rotation might be starting to emerge at Penn. Now the only question is whether it’s too late to save this season.
The Quakers’ head coach has struggled to find consistency in regards to his player’s minutes since taking over the program in the 2015 offseason, a problem that carried over from the Jerome Allen era that preceded Donahue’s arrival.
Through his team’s first 20 contests this year, nine different players had earned starts, but only four Quakers had seen action in every game. Just two -- freshman A.J. Broduer and senior Matt Howard -- started and played in all 20.
And that erratic movement in and out of the rotation seemed to hamper Penn’s progress as a program, with performances as inconsistent as who was seeing key minutes on any given night. Ivy League play didn’t help, as the Quakers dropped their first six league games, though only seven players got into the starting lineup.
“There’s been a time that we’re trying to figure out where we can be best...but my sense is that we had to get to a rotation,” Donahue said.
Suddenly, this weekend, things seemed to have clicked.
With the same eight-man rotation playing two games in a row, Penn pulled off its first two league wins, downing Columbia on Friday night before playing perhaps its best game of the year in beating Cornell 82-63 on Sunday afternoon.
“I think we’ve taken another step, figuring out how we’ve got to play,” Donahue said. “I think there’s a core group here that really understands almost a sense of anger that we’re in this position and let’s be competitive, use that in a positive way.
“And these guys, to me, over the last course of a couple of weeks, have separated themselves from the other guys in terms of earning playing tim,” he added. “I think whether it’s they make us quicker, bigger...I don’t want to write anybody off on our bench that can help us win games next weekend, but my sense is this is a good core and in particular the younger kids have really gotten comfortable.”
If this is the group that Donahue is going to stick with for the remainder of the year, it certainly bodes well for the future of the program.
Of the eight, only one (Howard) is a senior. There are two juniors, point guard Darnell Foreman and 6-7 shooting wing Sam Jones. After that it’s all underclassmen: sophomores Max Rothschild (6-8) and Jackson Donahue (6-2); freshmen Brodeur (6-8), Ryan Betley (6-5), and Devon Goodman (5-10).
The rookies were particularly impressive in the win over Cornell.
Local products Betley (Downingtown West) and Goodman (Germantown Academy) both had the best games of their respective careers, which are still very much in their infant stages. Betley, who missed the first 10 games of the season with a broken hand, dropped in a career-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting, hitting 5-of-10 from 3-point range.
Goodman set all sorts of career bests against Cornell -- points (13), rebounds (three), steals (three) and minutes (29) -- while also dishing out four assists before fouling out in the final minute. The lightning-quick guard has been a solid compliment to the more defensive-minded Foreman, and he gives the Quakers’ perimeter speed that few Ivy teams can keep up with.
“Dev is another gear, he’s starting to get more comfortable,” Donahue said. “Four offensive fouls today, just using his arm out but I think the threat of him going by people makes us a harder team to guard. And that’s what I thought you saw a lot tonight.”
Betley and Goodman, who were AAU teammates with Team Philly during high school and thus came to college with a good deal of familiarity, are growing much closer now as their value to their team rises.
“As you can see we’re going through adversity together, we’re going through everything together,” Goodman said. “It’s just great having Ryan by my side through this whole process and we’re going to finish out this year strong and the next three years are going to be really fun.”
“I think we’ve progressed a lot since we both came to campus, just defensively and offensively,” Betley said. “Getting used to the offense, getting used to playing defense the way coach wants us to.”
Brodeur, the frontrunner for Ivy League Rookie of the Year (14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg), chipped in 15 points as well as five blocks, four rebounds and three steals, though he did turn it over six times.
All three contributed mightily to a first half that was easily the Quakers’ best of the season.
Penn (9-12, 2-6 Ivy) stormed out of the gates, jumping out to a 23-5 lead and taking a 42-14 advantage into the locker room. The Quakers were helped by 15 Big Red turnovers, but also shot over 55 percent from the floor during the opening 20 minutes.
Cornell (6-17, 2-6) got as close as 18 with 5:43 left, but the game was never in doubt.
Now what remains to be seen is whether or not this was a good weekend, or the start of a strong finish to the season for a team with a lot to play for.
The inaugural four-team Ivy League playoff at the Palestra is only a month away, and each of the six league games remaining are basically all-or-nothing at this point, two games back of Columbia (10-11, 4-4) for the final spot in that quartet.
Two wins are only a start.
“Let’s use it as confidence,” Donahue said. “However, we’ve got a long road to go, there’s got to be some desperation in our play to get back in this. I think that’s more of the motivation.”