Jackson Donahue's game-winner propels Penn past Harvard, into Ivy League Tournament

usa-jackson-donahue-penn.jpg
USA Today Images

Jackson Donahue's game-winner propels Penn past Harvard, into Ivy League Tournament

BOX SCORE

Jackson Donahue began his pregame ritual Saturday night in a pretty inauspicious manner. 

The sophomore guard reared up for a halfcourt shot. He nearly got into a crouched position and then fired the ball.

Airball.

Donahue tried again, same form, same everything. 

Airball.

This is his ritual every game, take at least three halfcourt shots and try to make one. It's an hour before the game starts and he won't shoot again until the opening tip. One would think making this shot would be pretty important to get the right vibes before a must-win game.

So he gears up one last time, shooting the ball with near reckless abandon. 

Swish.

Donahue would take just one shot in the University of Pennsylvania's crucial home game against Harvard … and it just so happened to be the Quakers' biggest shot of the year. Donahue drained a long three-pointer with 6.3 seconds left off an assist from freshman Devon Goodman to hand Penn a 75-72 upset win over Harvard and save its season, clinching a berth in the inaugural four-team Ivy League Tournament (see Instant Replay). The thrilling shot sent the raucous Palestra crowd to its feet and culminated in the team running on the floor as Harvard's final tying attempt bricked out.

On Penn's final play, Harvard showed zone but quickly switched to man, albeit too late. Goodman came over a screen and found an open Donahue, who swished it from beyond NBA range.

"That shot down the stretch," Donahue said, "it was a great designed play and we knew someone was going to help somewhere and we were just going to try and find whoever made that mistake and Dev found me."

What did Donahue think of his shot?

"I knew it was good," he said, "I knew as soon as I caught it, it was good."

A loss would have ended the Red and Blue's season, but instead, they are ticketed for a pseudo home game in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament against arch-rival Princeton next Saturday. Princeton is undefeated in conference play and Harvard now stands at 18-9 (10-4 Ivy) while Penn is the clear underdog, standing at 13-14 (6-8 Ivy). 

Donahue was simply a non-factor for most of the back-and-forth affair between Harvard and Penn Saturday night. Fittingly, on Senior Night, the only fourth-year player in Penn's rotation stepped up with perhaps his best game. Matt Howard led an early run for Penn with the Quakers' first 11 points. Harvard soon weathered the storm, locking down Penn defensively and taking a 35-31 lead into halftime.

"I just wanted to come out here and be as aggressive as possible," Howard said of his start, "and just lead the team. That was my mindset pretty much."

After the half, it was an emotional roller coaster. Penn immediately reeled off a 10-2 run but Harvard soon had a 16-6 run to take a seven-point lead, the largest it held after the break. The Crimson theoretically had nothing to play for as they were locked into the No. 2 seed in the tournament. But coming off a similarly tense game with Princeton the night before, Harvard's pride kicked in. 

"It was our opportunity to keep getting better. We knew it was going to be a hell of a ballgame," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "We knew we were locked into a certain place -- we're proud of that -- but we recognized the level of competition we were going to see tonight."

The 16-6 run began with a fantastic assist by senior Siyani Chambers, who pumped his fist twice while yelling, showing that this game meant a lot to Harvard. After the run, it was a combination of youthful energy and veteran savvy that reinvigorated the Quakers. Penn scored 10 straight points and led nearly the rest of the way after freshman center A.J. Brodeur began with a strong move in the post.

Goodman picked up a clutch steal to cut it to one and then Howard scored four straight points. He would match Chambers seemingly basket for basket down the stretch as Penn clung to a narrow lead.

But up by two with just 30 seconds to go, Howard's sealing three rimmed out and Harvard tied it on a pair of free throws by freshman Bryce Aiken with 20 seconds left. Aiken was fouled by Darnell Foreman, which was his fifth and final personal.

So who does Penn send in with the season on the line? Donahue, who had sat for the preceding 10 minutes and 14 seconds. Most players would be unable to shake off the cobwebs and come into such a tense situation, yet the sophomore guard was fearless, just like on his halfcourt shots.

"I have a lot of confidence in him in general," Penn coach Steve Donahue said of bringing Jackson (no relation) in at the end. "I think he's at this level because he thinks he's really good, which is a positive. He's not necessarily someone who jumps out at you. 

"I trust that the moments aren't too big. That wasn't what I expected, I'll be honest. He was about a foot and a half in front of me and I'm like, 'No,' but as soon as it left his hand, it’s in. He's just that type of kid."

Howard finished with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds while Brodeur had 15 points and seven boards. On the other side, Chambers had 12 points and five assists while center Zena Edosomwan had 15 points, including a few ferocious dunks off the bench.

Donahue? Just three points on one shot in 13 minutes of playing time, but those three points were perhaps the most important three points Penn has seen in 10 years.

"It's just about staying ready," Jackson said of the situation. "Coach says it all the time. We talked about how we were going to need a lot out of more guys tonight and if that means taking less shots and not trying to force things, [so be it]."

After the game, Donahue was all smiles. Hoards of family, friends, Penn basketball alumni and others interrupted each other to get a piece of the night's hero. For nearly half an hour, players and coaches were strewn around the court, reveling in the exciting victory and Donahue, off to the side, was still the center of attention.

After starting 0-6 in Ivy play, Penn reeled off five wins before losing its last two in heartbreaking fashion. The loss to Dartmouth on Friday night put the Quakers behind the eight-ball, but they received help with Columbia losing and Cornell winning on Saturday. All of that made the Harvard win that much sweeter for the 4,451 in attendance as many stayed to congratulate the team.

Instead of greeting each other with goodbyes and hugs, there was one common refrain with the Quakers' hated rival looming: "See you Saturday."

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Xavier stuns Arizona to reach Elite Eight

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Trevon Bluiett scored 25 points, Sean O'Mara scored inside with 40 seconds left and No. 11 seed Xavier upset No. 2 Arizona 73-71 in the West Region on Thursday night.

Xavier (30-13) stayed with the second-seeded Wildcats behind Bluiett's 18 first-half points and tracked down the Wildcats after they tried to pull away in the second half. O'Mara scored on a power move inside, but missed a free throw to give Arizona (32-5) a final chance.

Allonzo Trier missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds and Xavier was able to dribble out the clock, earning its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2008.

The Musketeers held Arizona scoreless over the final 2:52 to earn a sport in the West final against No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday.

Trier scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and Dusan Ristic had 17 for Arizona (see full recap).

Gonzaga escapes in wild finish for win
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jordan Mathews hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play and top-seeded Gonzaga survived a rough shooting night for both teams to beat No. 4 seed West Virginia 61-58 Thursday night to advance to the West Regional final.

On a night that featured 51 fouls and only 34 made baskets, Mathews delivered the big shot that sent the Bulldogs (35-1) to their third Elite Eight in school history.

It didn't come easily. West Virginia (29-8) had three shots to tie the game but Tarik Phillip missed a shot from the lane and Jevon Carter missed two 3-pointers after Silas Melson made one foul shot. The Mountaineers rebound both misses but couldn't get another shot off before the buzzer (see full recap).

Oregon survives to end Michigan’s run
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tyler Dorsey scored 20 points and made the go-ahead layup with 1:08 left, and third-seeded Oregon ended No. 7 Michigan's dramatic postseason run with a 69-68 victory in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Thursday night.

Dorsey, the man the Ducks call "Mr. March," had his sixth straight game scoring 20 or more points.

The Wolverines (27-11) had one more chance to extend their run after Dylan Ennis missed a free throw with 15 seconds left. But Derrick Walton, who had carried the Wolverines the last three weeks, was off with his long jumper just before the buzzer.

Jordan Bell had a double-double for the Ducks (32-5), with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Pac-12 player of the year Dylan Brooks added 12 points and Dylan Ennis had 10.

Walton led the Wolverines with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Zak Irvin had 14 of his 19 points in the second half and DJ Wilson had 12 points.

Oregon plays Kansas or Purdue on Saturday in the regional final (see full recap).

Kansas throttles Purdue to advance
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III poured in 26 points, Kansas turned on the jets in the second half and the top-seeded Jayhawks soared to a 98-66 blowout of No. 4 seed Purdue on Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.

Devonte Graham also had 26 points and Josh Jackson had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Jayhawks (31-4), who led by 7 at halftime before their up-and-down pace finally wore down the Boilermakers.

Kansas used two big runs, including an 11-0 charge highlighted by Lagerald Vicks' 360-degree drunk, to coast into a matchup with No. 3 seed Oregon on Saturday for a spot in the Final Four (see full recap).

The Ducks survived a nail-biter against Michigan earlier in the night.

Caleb Swanigan had 18 points and seven boards for the Boilermakers (27-8), but the 6-foot-9, 250-pound All-America candidate had to work for all of it.

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III was fired as Georgetown's basketball coach Thursday after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

Thompson said in a statement released by agent David Falk that he was "honored" to have been the Hoyas' coach and proud of what his players have "accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown."

"Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972," Thompson's statement said, referring to the year his father took over as the Hoyas' coach, "which makes this moment even more impactful, but I look forward to my next chapter."

School president John DeGioia told Thompson on Thursday he would not be brought back next year at a basketball program strongly associated with his last name.

"Our tradition of excellence as a university will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family," DeGioia said in a statement. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness."

Thompson, known as "JT3," was Georgetown's head coach for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert on the roster. But he went a combined 29-36 the past two years, with some of those defeats punctuated by crowd chants of "Fire Thompson!"

What had once been unimaginable -- a Thompson being sent away from Georgetown -- became a topic of conversation among the team's fans as the losses mounted. When the subject was broached with Thompson after a defeat against defending national champion Villanova, a team spokesman jumped in to say: "Leave it to game-related questions, please."

The Hoyas' 14-18 record this season included six losses in a row to finish and marked the team's worst winning percentage since the 1950s. They went 15-18 a year ago, losing seven of their last eight games.

"We're not going to keep rehashing last year," Thompson said before the start of this season. "A lot of introspection where you just stop and, from top to bottom, look at everything: How you do things, how you approach things, how we should change things, how you should alter things. ... We have to make some changes on how things were done, and we have. We're in the process of doing it."

Not quickly enough, apparently.

Thompson's record was 278-151 at Georgetown, with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Since that lone Final Four appearance a decade ago, the Hoyas had several missteps at the Big Dance, going 3-6 and never winning more than one game in any single bracket. There were plenty of memorable exits against low-seeded opponents such as Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio.

His father, John Thompson Jr., led the Hoyas to 20 trips to the NCAAs, three Final Fours and a national title in 1984 with Patrick Ewing at center while coaching the team from 1972-99. "Big John," as many call him, has been a visible and vocal presence at Georgetown's games during his son's tenure, often sitting in on news conferences and interjecting his thoughts from the back of the room.

Georgetown's new on-campus practice facility, which was opened with a dedication ceremony in October, is named after the older Thompson.