Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
It was a precious moment for Penn on Sunday, in the Quakers’ first Ivy League game in 666 days. The Quakers’ Michael Moshkovitz left the court festive, skipping and smiling midway through the first half against Brown, after a very ugly—though fortunate—basket that was intended to be an uncontested dunk bounced three times on the rim before it fell through.
George Smith (above) set a new career high with 23 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
In their first two months this season, the Quakers had not experienced any fortunate bounces.
The Quakers had not won since Nov. 21 and were lugging a six-game losing streak entering their Ivy League opener, trying to grasp anything fortunate to turn their drought around. Penn received a welcome panacea in Brown, which the Quakers edged, 77-73, before a sparse crowd at the Palestra, led by lefty freshman George Smith’s career-high 23 points, Jordan Dingle’s 20 and Moshkovitz’s 16.
It was a pleasant return to the Ivy League. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last time the Quakers (4-10 overall, 1-0 Ivy League) played an Ivy League game was on Saturday, March 7, 2020—an 85-65 victory over Columbia at the Palestra.
“For us, I thought we competed most of the game really well, particularly on defense,” said Penn coach Steve Donahue, who has had nine different starting lineups in 14 games. “We’ve had protocol issues and we’ve had injuries with our bigs, but it’s just a resilient bunch. My point to them is you want adversity in life.
“You don’t like it in anything that you do. But you want it, and what you want to do is find solutions. I think all of that adversity has made us a better team, because we decided to be tough-minded and learned from it.”
Against Brown (8-8, 0-1), the Quakers trailed once, 2-0. They took a 40-30 lead into intermission, holding a 14-point edge at one point, with 1:00 left in the half after a pair of made Dingle free throws.
With 13:52 left in the game, the Quakers stymied the Brown offense into a shot-clock violation turnover. It looked as if Penn would walk comfortably away with a double-digit win.
Brown, however, changed that. The Bears crept to within 64-61 with 4:42 to play on a pair of Tamenang Choh free throws. Moshkovitz gave Penn a 68-62 cushion on a credited layup, which was a goaltending call with 3:47 to play.
A Moshkovitz driving hook increased the Quakers’ lead to 70-64, and a Moshkovitz steal led to a Smith corner three-pointer that put Penn ahead, 73-64, with 2:26 to play.
Brown just wouldn’t go away.
Michael Moshkovitz (above) made a basket after three lucky bounces on what appeared to be an uncontested dunk. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
A pair of Paxson Wojcik free throws made it real interesting, moving the Bears to within 75-73, but Smith ended Brown’s hopes and finished it by nailing a couple of free throws with :08 to play, putting the Quakers up by the final margin, 77-73.
It was Smith that opened up a close game on a rare four-point play after being fouled a corner trey with 14:27 left in the first half. He then followed that up with a layup 41 seconds later, which put Penn up 18-8 with 13:46 remaining in the half.
Due to the lack of fans because of Penn restricting the general public from games, Smith said the team wanted to create their own energy. The Quakers changed up their pre-game warm-up routine to being loud, which Smith said it carried over into the game.
“I had (to) step up today, because we happened to have a few guys out with COVID, and today just happened to be my day,” said Smith, who doubled his career best. “But it’s going to be someone else every other game. I know the guys believe in me and we’re just playing hard, doing what we have to do to win these games.”
With 11:21 left in the half, you could hear the frustration build on the Brown sideline. Bears’ coach Mike Martin was yelling, “Set it up!” after Penn’s defense foiled another Bears’ set by interrupting another pass.
Soon after, Moshkovitz went rumbling and stumbling to the basket after a steal with what seemingly looked like an uncontested dunk. Only, his feet got tangled on the way, forcing him to throw the ball up almost in desperation. It bounced off the rim, bounced again, and again—then fell through.
“I don’t know what happened there,” said Moshkovitz, laughing. “That shot wouldn’t have dropped a month ago. I think (the fact) that we didn’t play last year affected us. This year is like my first year, and today was my first Ivy game. We’re getting better and better.”
It’s what personified the game. Penn, for once, got a break, as Moshkovitz skipped off the court with a beaming smile on the way to a Quakers’ victory.
“We got confidence from this,” Moshkovitz said. “We know we can play well.”
NOTES: Penn was missing starting junior guard Johan Charles due to COVID protocol. Rotational senior forward Michael Wang was not with the team on Sunday.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.