After hitting the snooze button through the first half of the Ivy schedule, the Penn Quakers have finally woken up. They had to be backed into a corner before they stopped taking the rest of the league for granted, but if the Quakers play like they did in their 78-51 blowout of Harvard Friday night, no one—the Bulldogs included—will beat them the rest of the way.
This was not the same team that Harvard beat last month at Lavietes Pavilion. The Quakers were faster, more aggressive on defense and more accurate with their shooting.
As soon as Friday ’s game became a foot race, the Crimson’s fate was sealed. Harvard’s guards are an athletic bunch, but the Crimson’s forwards simply cannot compete with Penn’s explosive tandem of Ugonna Onyekwe and Koko Archibong.
At Lavietes, Harvard’s Graham Beatty and Sam Winter could front Onyekwe and Archibong, and limit their effectiveness by playing physical. But you can’t outmuscle what you can’t see.
“We’re not quick enough with our footwork. The game was much slower at Harvard,” Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said Friday. “Tonight there were fewer stoppages. When you need to chase Ugonna and Archibong around, that’s a problem for our team.”
As the game began to slip away, Sullivan pleaded with his team to try to deaden the pace. On one trip down the floor, junior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman turned towards the Harvard bench and acknowledged his coach’s instructions.
“Slow it down,” he mouthed, nodding all the way.
But try as they it might, Harvard was powerless to stop a Quaker team on a mission.
Every time Penn grabbed a defensive rebound, it seemed like there was already a Quaker at halfcourt, waiting for the outlet pass on a fast break. Onyekwe had at least three dunks in the second half—a one-handed jam over Harvard guard Jason Norman (plus the foul) and two others on acrobatic alley-oop plays. All of them brought the Palestra crowd to its feet.
Penn played solid defense, too. Harvard couldn’t generate anything with its halfcourt offense, committing 18 turnovers, including 12 in the first half.
More importantly, Penn closed up any potential driving lanes, taking away Harvard’s attempts at dribble-penetration, which had victimized the Quakers in the teams’ last meeting. Pat Harvey’s running floater? Gone. Drew Gellert’s season-high 15 points? Gone.
Can Penn keep it up?
That is the million-dollar question. There’s no arguing the fact that Penn can beat any team in the Ivy League when it plays it best, but it’s still prone to not playing its best.
Often criticized for his uneven effort, Onyekwe looked anything but disinterested in the second half. But it’s hard to overlook the fact that he had just four points before the break. Even Sullivan speculated that someone must have lit a fire under him at halftime.
“I think somebody said something to him,” Sullivan said.