Unlikely Hero Devon Goodman Leads Penn Past Columbia

In practice leading up to Friday night’s game, Penn point guard Devon Goodman was not high on Columbia’s scouting report.

Goodman’s last competitive playing time had come a very long month ago — coincidentally, against the Lions — when he was scoreless in four ineffective minutes, finally losing his tenuous place in Penn’s rotation. Even in the Quakers’ practices this week, he was playing on the scout team, aping Columbia point guard Mike Smith.

But Penn quickly fell behind 14-3 at Levien Gym, and Steve Donahue had already gone through his first four guards, so he plucked Goodman off the bench to give the Quakers a spark — and got a full-blown explosion. Goodman stretched Columbia’s sagging defense, hitting a three-pointer shortly after entering and adding four more throughout the game (despite entering it just 3-17 from distance). He made plays off the dribble, fitting into Penn’s system seamlessly and finding teammates. Despite a couple hiccups, he defended well overall, as when he locked down Gabe Stefanini one-on-one on the penultimate possession before halftime.

After he beat the buzzer with a three-pointer on the other end, Goodman already had 18 points, surpassing his career high. “They didn’t guard me as much at the three and I can shoot the three, so that’s what I did and I just stayed aggressive the whole time,” the sophomore said.

Facing more defensive attention in the second half, Goodman’s magic seemed to have run out: He was scoreless for the first 13 minutes, air-balling one crucial three-pointer and letting another slip out of his hands on the way up. But with the visitors trailing by four points, Goodman connected on a trey, forced a turnover on the other end, and made a scooping layup to give Penn its second lead of the game.

By the time AJ Brodeur blocked a deep shot and took it for an uncontested dunk three minutes later, stretching the run to 16-0, the outcome was no longer in doubt. Penn (8-1) beat Columbia (3-6) by a 74-62 score, keeping pace with Harvard atop the Ivy League and getting its first win in Morningside Heights since 2012.

Goodman finished with 23 points, five assists and five rebounds, setting season highs in all three categories. “He played well against us last year, as a matter of fact. He’s a good player,” Columbia coach Jim Engles said. “He hadn’t really been playing a ton, but when you understand your role and step into your role, you don’t lose confidence. […] That’s why they’re in first place.”

Such an out-of-nowhere performance is unusual this late in the season — but it’s not so out of place for the Quakers under Donahue, who isn’t afraid to challenge his set rotation. Jake Silpe, the team’s starting point guard as a freshman, was in a mop-up role for 12 months before re-emerging this January. (He had four assists in 19 minutes Friday, though he did not score.) Matt MacDonald barely played in the first three months of this season, but he’s starting to regain favor (three steals, five rebound in 10 minutes).

Even Goodman should be used to a changing role — after coming off the bench in all 14 league games last season, he started in the Ivy Tournament. And after Friday’s performance, he should expect more opportunities going forward (at least until the next guard re-emerges).

“These guys do a great job of not losing their confidence and their mojo and being positive. So when they’re called on, they don’t miss a beat,” Donahue said. “That’s the strength of our team. These kids don’t care how it gets done, they’re all pumped for each other…I’m proud of Dev. Like a lot of these guys, he’s been up and down over the last year and a half, and he stepped in and he was dynamite tonight.

Columbia entered the weekend with the league’s best offense, and it kept that pace up early on. Nate Hickman scored the game’s first five points (en route to 13 total, one off his season high). Mike Smith drew a favorable switch on a pick-and-roll and stepped back for a wide open trey, stretching the lead to 8-0. Patrick Tape exploited Penn’s interior defense (much as Harvard’s Chris Lewis did last week) for four easy points.

But Tape was forced to the bench with foul trouble, leaving the Lions’ offense stranded on the perimeter — where Penn defends best. Columbia shot just 4-17 from beyond the arc and committed 11 turnovers in the second half, finishing with 0.87 points per possession. “They just rotate a lot — they play hard, they step up and rotate fast,” Smith said. “They made the right plays at the right time.”

Smith led the Lions with 16 points, but he worked hard to get there, using 17 shooting possessions and adding four turnovers. Still, he was indispensable offensively: All of his teammates combined for one assist, and Columbia scored only five points in the nine minutes he sat.

“He can’t play all 40 minutes. I tried to do that at the beginning of the year, and first of all, that’s not healthy for the team, and second of all it’s not good for him,” Engles said. “Gabe [Stefanini] has been the Ivy League Rookie of the Week two times this year, so he’s going to be a really good player. Sometimes as a coach, you go with what you know, so that’s why I’m more comfortable with Mike at this time, and Gabe sometimes goes up and down because he’s a freshman. But I think the truth of the matter is that we’re building a pretty good backcourt.”

Levien Gym itself was cranky on Friday night, disrupting the game with clock malfunctions (not for the first time with Penn visiting). First, temporary shot clocks were installed on the baseline because the clock above the south basket flickered on and off after every shot attempt. Then, that basket clock went completely dark, so a ladder was wheeled out to shut down the other one for fairness’ sake … until the first one came back on, only to be manually shut down for good.

Perhaps it will be on better behavior Saturday, when Princeton makes a critical visit. Both teams are on multi-game losing streaks and reeling from Friday’s blown leads (though the Tigers’ was much worse — a 22-point collapse in the second half at Cornell that eventually became a 107-101 triple-overtime loss.) With both teams entering at 3-6, the loser’s playoff hopes will be all but crushed, while the winner will still be very alive.

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