By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
— 41 Action News (@41actionnews) March 15, 2018
Kansas 76, Pennsylvania 60 – Box Score
Widely considered to be under-seeded as a #16 seed, Penn was receiving a lot of buzz as potentially the first men’s basketball team in tournament history to knock off a #1 seed in the first round. In the early going, it looked like the Quakers might pull off the improbable against Kansas. An Antonio Woods lay-up gave the Quakers a 21-11 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the first half, allowing fans in University City and the greater Philadelphia area to start to believe.
With the sort of talent disparity inherently a part of any 1-16 matchup though, the lower-seeded team needs to play a nearly flawless 40 minutes to keep it close. Unfortunately for the Quakers, they hurt themselves in a lot of ways. Penn made just one of their first eight shots from the free throw line, finishing 5-14 for the game. They also lost the turnover battle, 11-8, with most of those turnovers coming early when the Quakers could have been building on their lead.
Instead, Kansas quickly got back into game, ending the first half on a 22-5 run, propelled by a transcendent performance from national player of the year candidate Devonte’ Graham. The Jayhawks point guard was everywhere on the court, finishing with 29 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals, while only turning it over twice. Any time the Quakers threatened to get back into the game, Graham would come through with a big three or drive to the basket and earn himself a trip to the free throw line.
While Graham could basically create offense for himself at will, Penn had to work incredibly hard for anything it got. The usual offense for AJ Brodeur wasn’t there against a large, athletic Kansas defense; the sophomore big man led the Quakers with 14 points, but shot just 6-16 from the field and turned it over 5 times. Too often, Penn settled for a Caleb Wood three-point attempt (4-12) as a last resort when it couldn’t get a good look out of its normal offensive sets. Although it was still a single digit game with as few as 7 minutes remaining, it never felt like Penn had one big run in them to pull off the historic upset.
Yet, all in all, the Quakers acquitted themselves well on the national stage against one of the top teams in the country. Surely, the school’s first tournament appearance in 11 years will greatly help the recruiting process for Steve Donahue and the coaching staff. For a Penn program that has already far exceeded expectations in its rebuild process, Thursday afternoon was another step in the right direction.