A month ago, Steve Donahue was just about beside himself.
After Penn got swept by Princeton to start Ivy League play, Donahue walked into his news conference at Jadwin Gym looking like he had seen a ghost. And a week later, he saw an even worse loss statistically than those two, to St. Joseph’s at the Palestra.
Penn has won five straight games since then, so the view looks different now. But those struggles are still visible in the rearview mirror.
So is what Donahue believes caused them: a 31-day stretch between visiting Villanova [Dec. 4] and hosting Princeton [Jan. 4] in which Penn played just twice. One of the games was a home contest with Division III Widener that was basically an exhibition; the other was a visit to Howard. Having so much time off put the Quakers out of their rhythm.
“We played our archrival who had been playing, and [Princeton] just knocked our confidence out — we just weren’t prepared to do it,” Donahue said this week. “It almost felt like a new season.”
After the St. Joe’s game, Donahue said, “we were shook a little bit there.”
“We kind of know who we are again,” Donahue said. "I think we got it back by practicing really hard and sticking together, understanding that we failed, and we learned from it.”
Senior guard Devon Goodman has played a big role in that. He’s had 15 or more points in each of the last five games, and five rebounds in each of the last four. Also of note: In last weekend’s New York sweep, he was a perfect 8-for-8 from the foul line.
It's exactly the time of year for an upperclassman to step up, and Goodman has done just that.
“He’s had five great games — ridiculous attacking the rim and making great decisions,” Donahue said. “He just keeps getting better as his career goes on. He’s so much better than he was last year.”
That comes just in time for the biggest home weekend of the season, as red-hot Brown and powerhouse Yale come to the Palestra. Brown has won four straight and is tied with Penn in third place at 4-2. Yale is tied with Princeton in first at 5-1, and is ranked No. 86 nationally in offensive efficiency and No. 44 in defensive efficiency.
Donahue prefers to not look at the standings — which, granted, is easier to do thanks to the Ivy League tournament. But everyone else will, because if Yale beats Princeton and the Quakers sweep the weekend, Penn will pull into a tie for first place.
And there is some urgency to this homestand, because Penn will go on the road for four straight games afterward. Win these two and at 6-2, Donahue’s team will be a long way toward ensuring a top-four finish and a conference tournament berth.
Penn will play without senior guard Ryan Betley this weekend. He suffered a sprained left ankle at Columbia on Saturday and didn’t play Sunday at Cornell. Donahue said Betley is week-to-week. With four weeks left in the season (five counting the Ivy tournament), there is time for him to get back on the court.
Freshman shooting guard Jonah Charles, who has been out all season because of a broken foot, will not play this year. Donahue hoped in December that Charles would be on the court by now, but it didn’t happen. So it made the most sense to redshirt Charles and let the rehab take its course.