Yale 68, Penn 60: Shooting The Ball Still Important

Penn, as it has done for most of the season, battled hard Friday night against defending Ivy League champion Yale, winning a good majority of the loose balls and making the Bulldogs work for everything they got on the offensive end.

The Quakers also went more than 20 minutes without turning the ball over and had just nine for the contest.

But in the end, you only get points for putting the ball in the basket, and Penn just couldn’t do enough of it in a frustrating 68-60 loss at The Palestra.

“I thought we played really hard, and I thought it was just some poor execution on the offensive end,” Penn coach Steve Donaghue said. “We missed a lot of open shots that we typically make, and then you start pressing, and unfortunately Yale took full advantage of it in the second half. Give them credit, they played hard and smart and did a great job of closing out the game.”

Penn (6-7, 0-2) shot 21-60 (35.0%) from the field and 7-27 (25.9%) from three-point range, many of which could be classified as the ambiguous “good look”. However, that gets into chicken and egg territory, Yale (9-5, 1-0) has made many offenses look bad over the last few seasons, finishing 33rd in defensive efficiency in last year’s magical campaign that finished in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Holding the Quakers to just 0.90 points per possession Friday pushed them up to 92nd this season, even without perhaps their three top defenders from that squad in Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod, and Nick Victor.

“I thought we did a great job of rotating defensively,” Yale coach James Jones said. “Our guys were in the right place at the right time. Our weak side help was there most of the night, we closed out well, and we were physical when necessary.”

Penn is young, though, and Steve Donaghue hopes by March, those “good looks” will be quantified as actual points when it matters most: in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. Of course, the Quakers have to get there first, and at 0-2 face a pretty big game Saturday night against Brown, while Yale travels to the site of its only Ivy blemish last season, Princeton.

What else did we learn on the Path to the Palestra, which was actually at The Palestra (head explodes)?:

  1. Yale’s fifth straight win over Penn at The Palestra

That statement alone would be laughable when James Jones was entering the Ivy League in 2000 as Penn was in the midst of winning seven Ivy League titles in nine years. But a game like this does show exactly how great a job Jones has done at Yale (who finally ended its 54-year NCAA Tournament drought last season), where he can take a “rebuilding” team that lost by far its best returning player on paper in Ivy Preseason Player of the Year Makai Mason to an injury before the season even started, and never trail at The Palestra.

“That stuff (preseason polls) never makes any sense,” Jones said. “We’ve been picked lower than we’ve finished 14 of the last 16 years. Someone said after the game, ‘You look like you’ve reloaded.’ And I said, ‘What do you think we’ve been doing for the last 18 years? We had four all-league players last year, so which one would you want to take out to play some of the freshmen or sophomores? The answer is none of them. Now, it’s Alex’s (Copeland) time, or it’s Miye (Oni’s) time, Blake Reynolds’ time. I feel very confident with the young men in our program and how they’ve bought in with what we do and how we do it, and it’s helped us be successful.”

It also shows how far Steve Donaghue and the Quakers have to go, although regardless of the result, it is clear the program is on a positive trajectory at the moment.

“We played two really good teams that have had a lot of success in the league so far,” Donaghue said. “We’re trying to build this back up to get to that level. It’s a big game for us tomorrow to bounce back and in the back of my mind, we’re going to better in a couple weeks or months, and it’s great that we have a conference tournament, but we have to get there.”

2) Miye Oni and a shooter’s conscience

The freshman phenom of sorts, and second leading scorer (0.5 behind Alex Copeland) had a dreadful first half of his Ivy League career, going scoreless in 13 minutes and not coming close on either of his shots.

But Oni was far from shy when the second half started, getting to foul line twice in a two-minute span and then finally breaking through with a three-pointer with 11:47 left for his first field goal. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he had a game-high 18 points, nine rebounds, and no turnovers in 27 minutes.

“I just talked to my coaches, they kept telling me to keep being aggressive, to do what I normally do, and it worked out in the second half,” Oni said.

It’s hard to see him maintaining his 45.8% three-point shooting for the rest of the season, but he’s just a freshman, remember, so he should be around to help Jones and Yale for a while.

3) Meanwhile, the other side’s freshman phenom

AJ Brodeur, Penn’s leading scorer, was held to just 13 points on 5-15 shooting. Brodeur learned some valuable lessons from Yale veterans Sam Downey and Blake Reynolds, who played solid enough defense and got enough help from a disciplined defense to make it a tough night for the freshman.

Would things have opened up more if Penn had shot better? Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a recurring theme for the Quakers, who have really done it with defense this season, ranking just 207th in offensive efficiency (but 102nd in defense). That will be where Steve Donaghue knows his teams will have to improve. Penn is currently 165th in eFG% (after going 208th last season). His three straight Ivy League champs in 2008-2010 with Cornell were 9th, 29th, and 3rd (going to the Sweet 16), respectively, in that category. We shall see how he goes about doing that, but in the short term, it might be a little rough.

“They’re a fundamentally sound defensive team, for sure, but I don’t necessarily feel that was all of it,” Donaghue said. “For a long stretch, we did it to ourselves. I thought we got the open shots, and I thought A.J. had plays he makes around the rim typically. What a championship pedigree team does is they fed off our offensive frustration at the other end. They started really executing at the other end and playing hard, smart basketball.”