By now, the Penn Quakers aren't shocking anybody. They're not sneaking up on the Ivy League. They're not surprising Big Five opponents. They've shown skill and proved their competitiveness.
That competitiveness was there from the tip Saturday night inside a full and steaming Palestra. The Quakers got their offense clicking just enough to take out St. Joseph's, 67-56.
"We can see how gritty we have to be pull a Big Five game,'' said Quakers sophomore forward AJ Brodeur, who led a balanced Penn scoring attack with 13 points. "Especially in a packed Palestra."
Penn coach Steve Donahue, who saw his team improve to 13-6 before the Quakers return to Ivy play on Friday, harped on their improved defense, how Penn leads NCAA Division I in fewest assists allowed, which to Donahue means his defenders are guarding the ball and not over-helping, and are staying with their assignments.
Meanwhile, St. Joseph's, which lost a barn burner Wednesday at St. Bonaventure, the shots were going up, but the Hawks had 47 misses — a lot in a 40-minute game — and Penn was able to get its hand on all but eight of the misses. Donahue mentioned that his team is sixth in D-I in giving up the least offensive boards.
"Those are elite defensive numbers,'' Donahue said, noting the vast improvement in those areas this season.
Donahue also mentioned his team was rested, having not played since last Saturday against Temple, while St. Joe's came in on two days' rest off a tough road trip.
"We struggled this week on offense — I knew it, I could feel it,'' Hawks coach Phil Martelli said after St. Joe's fell to 9-11. He talked about how the Hawks had practiced set offense the day before instead of just going over a scouting report as usual. "It's a struggle. I have to look at it."
It's no mystery that the St. Joe's point guard is on crutches and expected top scorer has a cast on his wrist.
"I think for the first time Thursday they felt sorry for themselves, because we put everything we had into Wednesday night and … I couldn't get their spirit lifted,'' Martelli said. "I was very aggressive with them yesterday in practice, but it didn't work. We had no spark."
Shavar Newkirk led St. Joe's with 19 points, but did it on 6 for 16 shooting. Meanwhile, Penn's bench was the only bench that scored, getting 19, led by 12 from Caleb Wood.
A 12-0 Penn second-half run began when Wood provided his specialty, a three-pointer. However, Wood and Ryan Betley, Penn's other top shooter, took advantage of St. Joe's playing them tight on the three-point line and drove for layups. When Betley missed an open three, Brodeur grabbed the rebound in traffic and fed the ball back out to Betley, who nailed it the second time around.
Asked about winning a game like that in a full building, Brodeur gave a nod to a history he wasn't a part of but attracted him to the place.