Youthful Penn displays 'grit' but can't get over hump at Princeton

Youthful Penn displays 'grit' but can't get over hump at Princeton

BOX SCORE

PRINCETON, N.J. – For the first 23 minutes on Saturday night, Princeton didn’t just have Penn on the ropes. The Tigers had the Quakers all but put away.
 
But when the rivals meet, even in a game at Princeton, no lead is sacred, not even a 21-point lead like the Tigers staked out on Saturday.
 
So for the second straight year, Penn came storming back from an 18+ point deficit in the second half at Jadwin Gym, turning a laugher into a thriller in a short span. Princeton, however, didn’t falter in the final minutes and held off the Quakers, 61-52, and moved to 1-0 in the Ivy League (see Instant Replay).
 
Part of what allowed the Tigers to build a large lead in the first place was their experience. They start three senior forwards and while their primary guards are two sophomores and a junior, even that backcourt has seen its fair share of close games over the last few years.
 
And Penn coach Steve Donahue chalked up part of his squad’s slow start to the Quakers being at the opposite end of the spectrum, starting three underclassmen, a transfer and just one senior.
 
“I think we’re really similar in terms of talent level and where we’re at,” Donahue said, “so the difference, in my opinion is that they’re a pretty experienced group and they’ve been winning for a couple years now.”
 
That showed during a first half that was anything but picturesque. Princeton raced out to an early lead in a defensive struggle. Penn couldn’t even muster an assist in the first half and turned the ball over nine times. Princeton wasn’t much better with two assists and seven turnovers.
 
Junior guard Amir Bell helped pace the Tigers to a 34-17 lead at the half with 10 points off the bench. Meanwhile, the Princeton veteran forwards, especially senior Pete Miller, helped limit Penn’s top scoring option, freshman forward A.J. Brodeur.
 
Donahue mentioned that Brodeur had a few easy shots that would have made his final stat line – six points on 1 for 6 shooting. The freshman also struggled from the stripe, going 4 for 10 on the night.
 
Despite a startling comeback, Donahue refused to take the credit with his halftime speech and focused on how much his squad is trying to take the next step.
 
“I don’t know if it was what I say,” he said. “We’re growing this program right now and we need to prove to ourselves that we’re better than what we just did. We need to compete better, we need to play better. We need to go out and show what we’ve been building for.”
 
The game turned in the second half thanks to the effort of Penn junior Darnell Foreman. The guard was able to penetrate Princeton’s defense and create for the Quakers, dishing out their first few assists while pumping in a game-high 17 points. His effort may have earned him a spot in the starting lineup.
 
“He’s got some really good confidence,” Donahue said. “He keeps getting better as a player. I try to utilize him off the bench right now. That may not continue. It’s always good to know that I can go to him.
 
“He still misses a lot of them at the rim, but he does the hard thing. He goes by guys. He needs to learn to slow down and finish.”
 
That speed is what really caught Princeton’s eye.
 
“I was worried about him going into the game, I was worried about him during the game and I think he’s a really good player,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “He’s fast. … In our league, that makes a big impact and he was difficult to guard tonight.”
 
Beyond Foreman’s impact, Penn finally got going from three in the second half. Sophomore Jackson Donahue and freshman Ryan Betley each hit three triples during Penn’s 26-5 run to tie the game.
 
However, Princeton’s experience won in the end. A couple key shots from the Tigers’ guards handed Penn an 0-1 record in Ivy play despite a strong effort late in the game.
 
Now the Quakers need to refocus with their first Ivy weekend coming up on Friday at home.
 
“I give our guys a lot of credit. They fought back from 21, showed a lot of grit,” Donahue said. “It’s just not there yet and we hopes it’s there by Yale-Brown, but execution has to get better on both sides of the ball.
 
“There was a lot of good. We dominated the game for a long portion but we’re just not good enough to beat those guys on their home court when we fell down by 21.”

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

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Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

At 16-2-1, Penn State's men's hockey team is ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions have improved each of the last four years under head coach Guy Gadowsky. 

Their record by year:

      2013-14: 8-26-2
      2014-15: 18-15-4
Last season: 21-13-4
This season: 16-2-1

Penn State received 30 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO Division I poll. Denver is ranked No. 2, followed by Boston University, Minnesota-Duluth and Massachusetts-Lowell (see USCHO poll).

Penn State was ranked fourth last week before sweeping Michigan State.

Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

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Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

A few hours before Villanova hosted Seton Hall on Monday night, head coach Jay Wright came home and talked to his wife, Patty.

“You know you’re No. 1?” she said.

Wright didn’t react much to the news, nor did the players on the team when they found out during the pregame meal a little bit later.

“It’s not really that big of a deal this time,” Wright said. “I think we were all much more concerned with Seton Hall.”

Being No. 1 may almost be old news at this point, but thoroughly dominating good teams at the Pavilion never gets stale for the Wildcats, who cruised to a 76-46 demolition of the Pirates on the same day they regained the top spot of the rankings after a week at No. 3 (see Instant Replay).

Senior Kris Jenkins sparked the win with 16 points, shooting 4 for 6 from the three-point line and 4 for 4 from the foul line — numbers he cared far more about than the No. 1 in front of Villanova.

“That’s just a number,” Jenkins said. “We focus on getting better each and every day. We can lose our next game and we won’t be No. 1.” 

Villanova reached the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time in the program’s illustrious history last season, a couple of months before winning the national title on an iconic buzzer-beater from Jenkins.

The Wildcats then spent five weeks at No. 1 this season before a 66-58 loss to Butler on Jan. 4 moved them out of the top spot — only briefly, as it turned out.

“Every time you do something first is exciting,” Wright said. “And then you learn from it. I think we learned a great lesson last year and I think it helped us this year. And we learned a lesson again when we went to Butler. So you keep learning from it, that’s what we really take from it.”

As the Wildcats said last season, the most important thing is finishing the season No. 1. And they certainly showed once again that they have the chops to repeat as national champs — a prospect that Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called “pretty exciting” even after his team had its brains beaten in.

“That’s a tough team to play,” Willard said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. If you’re not clicking on all cylinders when you come here, that can happen.”

Willard went on to say that “if Josh Hart’s not the National Player of the Year, then there’s something wrong.” But against the Pirates, Hart had a modest 11 points as Villanova showed off its impressive balance with all seven players in Wright’s rotation finishing with at least eight points.

Afterwards, Wright credited his three seniors — Jenkins, Hart and Darryl Reynolds (eight points, nine rebounds) — for helping the team bounce back from a sub-optimal performance in Saturday’s 70-57 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m just really fortunate to have three guys who are experienced and have been successful but are really humble,” Wright said. “We looked at the film, told them St. John’s played harder than us, and we took care of it. I think our seniors set the tone.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t the only game at the Garden on Villanova’s mind. The last time the Wildcats played Seton Hall, they suffered a stinging defeat to the Pirates in the title game of the Big East Tournament. 

Jenkins, though, insisted, that rare loss didn’t offer any extra motivation. Neither did the fact that Villanova set a record with its 47th straight victory at the Pavilion. Or that Monday’s win was the program’s 1,700th of all time.

“Numbers are something that is becoming a challenge for us,” Wright admitted. “It’s a great challenge to have. Right now, it doesn’t really do anything for us. But trust me, at the end of the year, we take great pride in that. All it can do is distract us right now. We know we have to answer the questions and you guys do a great job. I usually learn the numbers from you guys. It’s just not gonna do anything for us right now.”

Wright may not always like talking about his team’s absurdly impressive accomplishments. But he certainly loves games like this one as the Wildcats dominated all phases, from start to finish.

Deadly long-range shooting? Tenacious defense? Creating turnovers and scoring off them? Big-time hustle plays and rebounds? Electrifying dunks? Villanova did it all Monday in front of a raucous section of students back from winter break and one spectator named Ben Simmons, who took in the game from a courtside seat and applauded with everyone else.

What’s it like coaching a game like that? Is it ever hard when your No. 1 team is up by 30?

“It’s not difficult at all,” Wright said with a laugh. “It’s enjoyable. Things are going well, so you’re enjoying yourself.”