ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Penn men’s basketball team got back on the winning track Thursday night, jumping out quickly on Navy and never looking back in pinning a 79-58 defeat on the Midshipmen at Alumni Hall.
The Quakers (5-3) have now won five of their last six after starting the season with two losses; Navy (7-3) saw a three-game win streak snapped with the loss, and had entered Thursday night's contest having won six of its last seven.
Balance was the name of the game for Penn, as five players reached double figures in scoring and four starters had at least three assists. Ibrahim Jaaber led the way with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven steals-- he is now just four steals shy of the Ivy League’s all-time record -- while classmate Mark Zoller scored 16 points and snared six boards.
The big surprise was junior guard Michael Kach, who got the starting nod when Tommy McMahon was forced to stay behind in Philadelphia due to a recurring back injury. Kach responded by nailing a three-pointer on Penn’s first possession, en route to 12 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals in 33 minutes of action.
Steve Danley, meanwhile, had 15 points and was 11-of-16 from the foul line.
Penn was extremely efficient on offense Thursday night, shooting 48 percent from the field and knocking down eight of its 18 three-point shots. The Quakers were especially effective at the foul line, hitting 19-of-23 in the second half and 25-of-34 on the night. That allowed the Quakers to pull away comfortably despite knocking down just one field goal during a 13-minute stretch in the second half.
On defense, Penn kept the pressure up and allowed Navy to hit just 10-of-25 three-point shots. Led by Jaaber, the Quakers had 15 steals and forced 22 turnovers (while committing a season-low 11).
After Kach’s opening trey, Zoller and Brian Grandieri (13 points) hit layups on consecutive possessions as Penn scored the game’s first eight points. That lead expanded to 21-6 when Zoller hit a trey, and then Jaaber stole the inbounds for an easy layup at that point the game was not even eight minutes old.
Navy lives and dies with the three-pointer-- nearly half of the Middies’ field-goal attempts come from beyond the arc-- and they seemed to spark to life with four in a row, a 12-2 run that closed Penn’s lead to five points (23-18). At that point Alumni Hall, full of Midshipmen, was boiling over.
Zoller quieted the crowd, getting left alone at the top and draining a trey. He then got a conventional three-point play, and that was followed by a Jaaber trey and a steal and dunk by Kach that made the score 35-22. The Quakers went into the locker room with a 41-29 lead; at that point all of Penn’s five starters had at least six points (led by Zoller’s 13), and the team was shooting 15-of-26 from the field (57.7 percent).
Grandieri opened the second half with yet another three-pointer, kicking off a 12-2 Penn run to start the stanza that pushed its lead to 53-31. Navy drew within 15 twice, at 59-44 and again at 61-46 on a Greg Sprink layup, but a Jaaber trey was the catalyst to another eight-point Quaker streak that effectively ended it. Almost all of those points came from the foul line-- in fact, from the 13:19 mark to the 4:34 mark Penn was 15 of 16 from the charity stripe.
Penn is back in action Saturday night, hosting Fordham at The Palestra at 7 p.m. Last year, the Rams defeated the Quakers in the Bronx, 78-63.