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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

College Notebook: Quakers making statement

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 22

Penn earned respect, both for itself and Ivy League basketball, with a 78-75 victory over defending national champion Villanova on Dec. 11.

The Ivy League champion is generally dismissed as a one-and-done participant in the NCAA Tournament. As Ivy League champion, Penn received a 16th seed last season, earning a first-round meeting with No. 1 seed Kansas. The Quakers put up a good showing in the first half before succumbing to the Jayhawks, 76-60..

If the Quakers win the Ivy League title again this season, they should be given more respect. The victory over Villanova ended the Wildcats’ 25-game Big Five winning streak, which lasted more than six years. In terms of its importance this season, it extended Penn’s winning streak to five games entering Saturday’s game at New Mexico (4 p.m.).

Penn is 9-2 for the first time since the 1994-95 season. If they defeat the Lobos in the legendary Pit, the Quakers will be 10-2 for the first time since the 1993-94 season.

Remember, this is a team that lost its leading scorer from last season, Ryan Betley, to a ruptured patellar tendon in the season opener. But, as was the case last season, Penn is receiving contributions throughout the lineup.

The latest player to step up is freshman forward Michael Wang, one of only five Division I basketball players born in China. After seeing limited action during the early portion of the season, the 6-foot-10 Wang has scored in double figures in five of the past seven games, including the past three. He scored 23 points during a convincing 89-75 win over Miami, then scored 18 points against La Salle and 14 against Villanova.

Another freshman, guard Bryce Washington, has been a consistent contributor. He scored a team-high 16 points in a lopsided win over Delaware State, but hasn’t scored fewer than seven points in his last six games, including nine against Villanova.

The freshmen are complementing the contributions of reliable juniors Devon Goodman (14.8 points) and AJ Brodeur (13.3) and senior Antonio Woods (10.9). Add in the resurgence of senior guard Jake Silpe, a Cherry Hill East graduate who is averaging 7.2 points after averaging fewer than two points in each of the past two seasons, and the all-around contributions of senior forward Max Rothschild, and it’s obvious that Penn has the depth to counter strategies designed to take away one player.

The Quakers only two defeats came at the Paradise Jam against Kansas State and Oregon State. They beat Northern Iowa at the Paradise Jam and have impressive wins over Miami and, of course, Villanova on their resume.

Although they don’t have a true superstar, a team effort makes the Quakers dangerous in the Ivy League – and perhaps in the NCAA Tournament.

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CENTURY MARK: There couldn’t have been a better way for Steve Donahue to celebrate his 100th game as Penn’s head coach than with a 78-75 victory over Villanova.

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PALESTRA DOUBLEHEADERS: In my previous college hoops notebook, while talking about the possibility of catching back-to-back games at different Big Five campuses, I got nostalgic for the Palestra doubleheaders of the past. We get even closet to that this Saturday, with Drexel hosting Temple at the Palestra (1 p.m.), and then Saint Joseph’s hosting Loyola of Chicago at the Palestra (5 p.m.).

The Temple-Drexel game will be the final game in the Palestra for Temple head coach Fran Dunphy, who spent 17 seasons as Penn’s head coach. Dunphy is leaving Temple after this season, his 13th with the Owls.

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LEGENDARY SITES: Villanova certainly didn’t enjoy its week of games at legendary college basketball venues. The Wildcats dropped three-point decisions to Penn at the Palestra and to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.

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NAILBITERS: Penn isn’t the only local team off to a 9-2 start. After losing to Villanova, 69-59, Temple pulled out a pair of two-point victories to improve its record to 9-2. The Owls beat Massachusetts, 65-63, behind Shizz Alston Jr.’s career-high 31 points, and then edged Davidson in overtime, 77-75, behind Alston’s 24 points and 11 assists. Quinton Rose’s steal and layup in the final seconds lifted the Owls to victory.

Temple also posted a two-point victory over Missouri earlier this season, meaning that three of its nine wins were by two points. That bodes well for the Owls when they have to play tight conference tournament games.

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FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Congratulations to La Salle and first-year head coach Ashley Howard for Friday’s 80-57 victory over Alabama A&M. Yes, Alabama A&M is winless (0-11) this season, but the Explorers still must have been relieved after notching their first victory this season.

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WOUNDED HAWKS: Saint Joseph’s got off to a rough start in its Big Five schedule, losing to Temple (77-70) and Villanova (70-58). To make matters worse for the Hawks, they faced the Wildcats without leading scorer Charlie Brown (ankle) and leading rebounder Pierfrancesco Oliva (concussion).

The good news for the Hawks is that Brown and Oliva are both expected to return for Saturday’s game against Loyola of Chicago. The bad news is that Taylor Funk broke his nose during practice, although he is expected to play despite the injury.

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INCREDIBLE BALANCE: Drexel (6-6) has seven players averaging at least 9.6 points. However, that list includes guard Kurk Lee, who has been sidelined since the third game of the season with a shoulder injury. The latest to join the list of top scorers is junior guard Zach Walton, who has only played seven games, but has made four starts. .

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LOOKAHEAD: After Saturday’s busy schedule, which includes the split-game Palestra doubleheader and all of the other City Six in action, there is a break for Christmas. Action resumes Friday with Drexel visiting Northeastern (7 p.m.). Next Saturday, Saint Joseph’s hosts Wagner (2 p.m.) and Penn visits Toledo (2 p.m.), and then Drexel returns to action Sunday (4 p.m.) at Hofstra.

 

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