By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Yale 79, Penn 58 – Box Score
After having their 12-game winning streak (their longest since 1948-49) snapped Friday night in a loss to Princeton, the first-place Yale Bulldogs wanted no part of dropping their second Ivy League game of the season. On the surface, Penn seemed like an easy target; the Bulldogs had won their last seven meetings against the Quakers, including a 81-58 Yale victory in New Haven earlier this year.
For most of the evening though, Penn was determined to put up a fight. Matt Howard had a nice performance slashing to the hoop for a team-high 16 points, while big man Darien Nelson-Henry worked his post game to chip in 15. The Quakers hung around and were still within 2 points at 43-41 with 13:33 left in the game.
Unfortunately for the partisan crowd at the Palestra, things fell off the rails from there on out for the Quakers. Yale buckled down on defense, surging to a 16-4 run over the next 6 minutes to take control of the game. Penn tried to come back against the bigger Bulldogs by firing away from the outside, but the Quakers were just 3-18 from three on the evening. Yale head coach James Jones spoke highly of his team’s performance after the game:
“Our defense was great in the second half. We were tremendous, really gritty, the way we dug in and got stops.”
Really though, even if the Quakers were hitting their shots, it might not have mattered with the way senior forward Justin Sears was dominating for Yale. Sears tied a career-high with 31 points, adding a game-high 9 rebounds. Penn coach Steve Donahue succinctly summed up the challenged his team had in defending the Bulldogs’ leading scorer:
“He’s relentless on the boards, he uses his length so well, knows what he does well, doesn’t try to go way out of his comfort zone…I think he’s as good a player at this level as there is.”
James Jones added to the lovefest for the play of his star player:
“Tonight he goes for 31 and 9. I honestly could sit here and tell you, I think he could have got 40 and 20…I’m gonna miss him dearly next year.”
Despite the loss, Donahue remains optimistic about his team’s goals over the final 5 games of the season.
“I’d love to get a winning record [in Ivy League play], I think that’s a great step, no doubt. More importantly, I look at it qualitatively. I want us to get better. I want to see if we can take another jump, see if we can go play great basketball…I think we have that ability.”
The Quakers have already matched their conference win total from a season ago (4), and are getting solid contributions from a number of freshmen thrust into larger than expected roles. They’re at the stage where they can hang with the best the Ivy League has to offer for close to 30 minutes; it shouldn’t be too long before they can compete for the full forty.