A.J. Brodeur (above) set the Penn record for made field-goals as the Quakers beat Yale on Saturday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA – Early in the second half, Max Martz crashed the boards on a shot and the Penn freshman somehow stretched to tap the ball to himself with his left hand and then twisted while falling out of bounds to tap the ball with his right hand safely out to teammate Jarrod Simmons.
The unrelenting play didn’t result in a basket, but with the Quakers down two points at the time and coming off a disheartening loss the night before here at the Palestra, the hustle showed the effort coach Steve Donahue’s squad was exerting – and needed - against league-leading Yale.
And the second and third efforts continued Saturday night in this pivotal Ivy League matchup for Penn, which had its five-game winning streak stopped the previous night.
The Quakers’ hustle finally cracked the Bulldogs when down five points late in the second half as Penn ripped a 11-0 run to will a 69-61 win over Yale.
“I’m just real proud of our effort after a really disappointing game (Friday) night,” Donahue said, referring to the loss against Brown.
Penn’s steady and many times spectacular senior AJ Brodeur became the program’s leader with 705 field goals during the decisive final stretch, breaking the mark held by the great Ernie Beck, who still comes to Penn games, since 1953.
“I didn’t realize I was close to that, but when I came in I knew we had a system I was getting into that was a place where I could play my game and be the type of player that I know that I am,” said the 6-foot-8 Brodeur about the record. “I just really feel that is just the product of what I have been working for every since I’ve been playing basketball, so to me it wasn’t too big of a thing because that is what I do and it is the type of way I play, but hearing everyone yell, I feel it meant more to them then it did to me, which gives me greater respect for this program and for the Philadelphia basketball community knowing how much this team means to them.
“So it is an amazing feeling to hear that reception for something that I was just kind of grinding a way at and kind of unknowingly playing my game.”
Brodeur, who is from Massachusetts, scored 19 points on an economical 7-for-13 shooting from the field, including a sizzling 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.
“I’ve only been here for four years but it is going to hard to go away, I love this place,” Brodeur said, who came into the night averaging 17 points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes a game. “Hopefully, I will be able to leave behind something like Ernie Beck was able to back in the day.
“We aren’t done with the season yet, but hopefully when it is all said and done I will be able to look back not only on my career but also on this season particularly fondly.”
With the uplifting win, Penn is locked in a three-way tie with Harvard and Brown at 5-3 behind co-leaders Yale and Princeton at 6-2. One of those teams won’t make the four-team playoff next month.
“Critical,” Donahue said when asked the enormity of this game, especially with the Quakers going on the road for the next four league games. “We had the best team in the league and if you think about it, that was a big win because there were a lot of tiebreakers stuff in it.”
Eddie Scott, a 6-6 junior guard, added 18 points, including making both of his 3-pointers to give the Quakers a game-saving lift.
“I was just try to put myself in the right position and play off my teammates,” said Scott, who was one point off his career high. “When AJ gets the ball down low, I try to space the floor and get open, take my time, toe the line and knock it down when it counts.”
In addition to his endless hustle, Martz enjoyed his fourth-straight double-figure scoring game with 12 points.
“He’s going to be a real good player over his career,” Donahue said about Martz. “He has the right mentality and he has some great toughness.”
Penn’s talented freshman Jordan Dingle, who came into the game second in scoring with a 14.4 average, finished with seven points.
“Even though the numbers don’t show it, the threat of him attacking the basket allows us to move the ball better and get better shots,” Donahue said.
In two weeks, the Quakers (13-8) travel to New Haven to play at Yale (18-6) after facing Harvard the night before. Penn and Yale have split the regular-season series each of the last three seasons, including last year when Yale won 78-65 in New Haven and Penn won 77-66 at the Palestra in the final weekend of the season.
With the late push, Penn is now looking at a sweep of Yale.
“We were able to figure it out down the stretch,” Donahue said. “This night we had great grit and figured it out.”
Penn, which led by 10 points midway through the first half only to trail 29-27 at the break, quickly fell behind by five points in the first two minutes of the second half. However, a pair of 3-pointers by Martz sandwiched an 11-3 run for the Quakers to take a 39-36 lead with 13:40 to play.
After a 10-5 run by Yale, Scott buried a corner 3-pointer to give the Quakers the lead back at 47-46.
“He’s been pretty consistent in what he does, we have someone who can help us down the stretch,” Donahue said about Scott. “Anytime he is in there, he is not fazed by the moment.”
After Scott’s triple, Bulldogs junior guard Azar Swain responded with a 3-pointer. Then, Penn and Yale traded three baskets each and the Bulldogs led 56-53 on another 3-pointer by Swain with 5:20 to play and padded their spread to five on a layup by 6-10 junior Paul Atkinson, who collected game highs with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But, the Quakers responded with the game-sealing 11-0 run.
Penn seized the lead at 61-58 on a 3-pointer by Brodeur to pass Beck and then the versatile big man passed from a move in the lane to the right corner where Scott rattled in a 3-pointer for a sudden six-point lead with 2:03 to play.
“He brings a big spark off the bench,” Brodeur said about Scott. “He really showed up for us in a big spot.”
Then, on a long rebound off a missed 3-pointer, Yale’s 6-9 senior Jordan Bruner hit a deep 3-pointer to cut Penn’s lead in half at 64-61 with 35.4 to play.
“He can really shoot the ball,” Brodeur said about Bruner.
The Quakers sent three different players to the line from 32 seconds to 15 seconds and all three made just one of two free tosses, but still Penn held a six point lead at 67-61 with 15.3 to play, which was plenty enough to avert a winless weekend.
“We’ve been feeling that urgency since went down 0-2 to Princeton,” Brodeur said about Penn opening the Ivy slate with a pair of losses to the Tigers in early January. “We try to play with desperation and if we can get that level of desperation that we had the last two or three minutes of the game that we had, if we can have that for 40 minutes of every game that we have left, I think we will be a dangerous team.”
On Friday night, although Penn lost for the first time in 10 games when leading at the half, the Quakers weren’t discouraged but rather determined and quickly jumped in front of Yale 8-0 with a concentrated effort to get the basket as three of the buckets were on layups.
After a Yale 3-pointer, Brodeur gave the Quakers a 10-point lead on a hook in the lane at 13-3.
Yale sophomore Matthue Cotton, a 6-5 guard from South Jersey (Eastern High School), cut Penn’s lead to three points on a 3-pointer with 8:30 to play with Yale’s seventh-straight point to make it 15-12.
The Bulldogs ripped a 6-0 run to take their first lead of the game at 20-19 on a follow layup by Atkinson with 2:59 left in the half and to force Penn coach Steve Donahue to take a time out.
Like in two droughts against Brown, the Quakers relied on their man defense beyond the arc to keep the game tight when they couldn’t generate any offense during a 10:04 stretch when Penn was outscored 17-5. The Quakers settled to trail Yale 29-27 at the half when Atkinson made a short bank jumper at the buzzer off an in-bounds play, setting the stage for a second half worthy of postseason basketball.
“I just thought it was an incredible basketball game,” Donahue said. “They are a really talented team. At times, I thought they played really well. I just thought we answered every punch.
“And, that is what team sports are about. We got answers from different guys, tonight is was Eddie and Max and AJ does it every night.”
As well as guys double-tapping a rebound just because the effort was needed.