Penn junior Max Rothschild and sophomores Ryan Betley and AJ Brodeur regroup against Princeton at the Palestra.
That’s what the blue banner at the top of the 2017-18 Penn Basketball Media Guide states. As cliche as these themes may seem, the Penn basketball team managed to represent all of these values in their routing of the Yale Bulldogs in the 2018 Ivy League Tournament semifinal game. Their commitment to the five words was clear before the clock even ran.
The Quakers’ began with their regular pregame warmup routine. It includes a plethora of sporadic drills that emphasize many skills, including three-point shooting, full court passing, free throw shooting, post moves, and jump shooting. Penn seemed locked and loaded heading into the game. There was no telling just how ready they actually were.
When senior captain Darnell Foreman wove his fingers together, signaling his teammates into the huddle, they rallied into a circle. It was game time, as the unified mass of white jerseys erupted into cheers shortly after being brought together.
The players then proceeded to shake the hands of each coach, player, and team personnel member, cultivating a melded culture that is evident everywhere in the program which ultimately allows the team to be successful.
Minutes later, the contest between the two Ivy League titans commenced and Penn would start the game red hot.
Within just 11 minutes, Penn led by 15, riding a 7-3 run at the time. A large part was due to the defensive wall Penn had built in front of first team All-Ivy selection sophomore Miye Oni.
Head coach Steve Donahue tasked 6-foot-1 guards Darnell Foreman and Antonio Woods and sophomore forward AJ Brodeur with guarding the always dangerous Oni, who’d been on a rampage recently. The 6-foot-7 guard had just notched his fourth straight double-digit scoring game against Princeton and his 21st of the season.
However, the trio was well prepared to handle Yale’s prolific scoring threat thanks to an extensive scouting report that highlighted Oni’s weaknesses.
“The emphasis was to cut off his downhill drives to the basket because we feel like that’s where he’s best,” Brodeur explained after the game. “But at the same time, getting him off the three point line, making him take contested twos, long jumpers. I felt like we did a good job of that, so I feel like that’s why their offense was stagnant at a lot of times.”
Oni would end the first half with a season low of no points, shooting 0-10 from the field and 0-3 from behind the three-point line. He struggled to find his rhythm in large part due to the pestering defense of Foreman, Woods, and Brodeur.
Donahue has especially been impressed with Woods’ defensive performances throughout the year. He has taken on various difficult defensive assignments, including the bigger Oni during Saturday’s contest.
“I think that what [Woods has] brought to us is a defensive mentality,” Donahue explained. “He can guard a Miye Oni and a Seth Towns [caliber player]. He can guard a quicker guard at the same time. He’s made us a much better defensive team. Really that’s where I think he’s helped us the most. I thought he’d be a good defender, but he’s really elevated that part of his game and is versatile on the defensive end.”
Woods’ counterparts in the shutdown of Oni, Foreman, and Brodeur, are also known to be pesky defenders. Foreman is seventh in total steals in the Ivy, top 15 in defensive rebounds per game, and surprisingly, top 40 in total blocks despite being slightly above 6-feet. Brodeur, on the other hand, is first in total defensive rebounds in the Ivy, third in total blocks, and 14th in total steals.
With the effective shutdown of Oni, Penn went on an offensive rampage in the first half, but did so with absolute humility.
This behavior was exhibited when senior guard Matt MacDonald made a putback layup for an and-1. The crowd roared as did teammate Darnell Foreman, who pushed MacDonald with excitement. Despite averaging under two points per game for much of the year, the New York native showed absolute modesty as he watched a sea of red erupt from his impressive feat. Instead of making arrogant gestures, MacDonald walked right over to the free throw line and calmly sunk the free throw.
MacDonald would be substituted out after nailing the free throw and, per the Penn culture, was met by a standing line of bench players all waiting to high-five him.
The Quakers would go on to end the half with 44 points and a 19-point lead that would be too much for the Bulldogs to climb back from.
The game finished with Penn on top, 80-57, giving them a shot at the Ivy League title against the Harvard Crimson.
If Penn is able to exhibit their five core values tomorrow, they will have more than a chance to take down Harvard. But Saturday’s game, more than anything, was a clear example that the basketball and communal culture of the Penn basketball program is in the right spot.
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament