There is no better game to attend than a Big 5 game in the Palestra. The crowd is packed. The sound is unforgettable. The band is loud. It is one of the greatest collegiate athletic atmospheres in America.
On this upcoming Wednesday, January 20th, the Palestra will host back-to-back Big five matchups. La Salle and Temple will clash in the first game at 7 pm, while Penn and Saint Joseph’s will follow at 9 pm.
Here is our preview to the second of these matchups, Saint Joseph’s at Penn:
Saint Joseph’s is off to a 14-3 start and besides a three point loss against a tough VCU team, they have not had much trouble in A-10 conference play thus far. Led by all-around star DeAndre Bembry and their versatile leading scorer Isaiah Miles, the Hawks have built a solid resume and should be a top seed in the A-10 tournament come early March.
After starting the season 4-1, the Quakers have only won two of their last nine games. With first year head coach Steve Donahue at the helm and only four upperclassmen on the team, Penn has had trouble with consistency. Despite the dismissal of sophomore guard Antonio Woods due to academic reasons, Penn still has time to turn it around with Ivy League play just starting to get underway.
What to expect:
Expect a hardfought game, where both teams put their all on the floor. The Quakers came out and played their hearts out against a tough Princeton team. This is a squad that will not give up and will fight to the final buzzer. The same can be said about the Hawks, who rarely take possessions off. This is part of the reason why they are so good: the players are always attacking and putting pressure on opposing teams.
Key Matchup: Darien Nelson-Henry vs. Papa Ndao
Nelson-Henry is the leading scorer of his team and he will more than likely be matched up with Hawks’ big man Papa Ndao. The 6-foot-11 center from Penn is the heart and soul of the Quakers. When he is on, the team is on. If the Hawks and Ndao are able to contain Nelson-Henry and force someone else to beat them, they will have a good chance at winning the game. However, if the big man is able to get inside, Penn will thrive.
X-Factors: Darnell Foreman and Lamarr Kimble
With the loss of Antonio Woods, the Quakers need a guard to step up. Jake Silpe has done so, taking a lion share of the minutes at the point. Fellow freshman Jackson Donahue has additionally stepped in, putting up 16 points in their loss to Princeton. However, they will need more from the bench with their sudden lack of depth. Foreman looks to be that guy. He had 9 points in 11 minutes of play against Princeton and he seems like a player that can get hot. He could easily provide a much needed spark off of the bench against a strong Saint Joseph’s team.
Kimble, on the other hand, will likely be Foreman’s counterpart when they’re both in the game. The freshman from Neumann Goretti High School has done an admirable job controlling the second team, but they may need a little more out of him to push this Saint Joseph’s team to the top. They should expect to beat Penn, but if he is not able to push the tempo and put pressure on the Quakers when the starters are out, they may not be able to maintain the lead.
What Saint Joseph’s needs to do to win: Force the ball out of Nelson-Henry
As their leading scorer and most efficient offensive player, Saint Joseph’s will need to find a way to get the ball out of Nelson-Henry’s hands. If they allow the ball to get deep and do not double team, Nelson-Henry will have a field day. However, Saint Joseph’s does a great job of doubling the post and forcing turnovers. Nelson-Henry, on the other hand, is a great passer and could find ways to poke holes in the defense. The Hawks will need to find a way to force the game out of his hands by double teaming, but also recover quickly and ID shooters.
What Penn needs to do to win: Find a way to keep the game in the 50s or below.
If Penn wants a shot at the win, they will need to commit their energy to the defensive end. Considering the fact that SJU has done a great job with post players recently (forcing Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin to 7 turnovers, Fordham’s Ryan Rhoomes to 6 turnovers, and holding George Mason’s Shevon Thompson to 3-9 from the field), the Quakers will ultimately have trouble scoring consistently through Nelson-Henry. As a result, expect Penn to struggle posting a high number of points. Therefore, they will have to hunker down on defense and commit to holding the Hawks to less than 60 points.
Prediction: 65-44, Saint Joseph’s
Saint Joseph’s should win this one in a low scoring game. The Hawks have done a great job in their recent outings of forcing turnovers from back to the basket big men. Although Nelson-Henry probably will not turn the ball over much, he should have trouble finding the space to back down his defenders. Without former guard Antonio Woods, the Quakers should struggle to score consistently against an athletic, long, and disruptive Hawks defense. On the other side, Saint Joseph’s should be able to get to the basket, as they have much of the matchup advantages with Isaiah Miles, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Papa Ndao. However, expect the Quakers to come with a lot of energy and keep this one a game for the most part. You can question many things about this year's Penn team, but you cannot question their heart.
-Benjamin Simon and William Derry
In the 233rd career meeting, Penn and Princeton needed overtime to decide the Tigers as the winner, 73-71. For much of the game prior to the midway point in the second half Princeton led. However, after strong bench play and some good ball movement, the Quakers were able to take the lead. Penn could not close out the second half, despite leading by 11 points at one point. Princeton cut down their lead to 2 points with 1 minute left in the game. The Tigers would continue on this run and come all the way back to tie up the game after a bucket by Devin Cannady, sending it into overtime.
In the extra period, the two teams exchanged buckets, but two free throws by Princeton’s Myles Stephens gave the Tigers a 72-71 lead with 27 seconds left in the game. After Cannady hit 1 of 2 from the line to put them ahead by two, Penn was able to get off a last second shot but could not convert.
Penn is now 6-8 overall and 0-1 in Ivy League play.
What went well?
Darien Nelson-Henry gave the Quakers an inside presence, scoring 17 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Tyler Hamilton and Darnell Foreman gave coach Donahue a spark off of the bench as Hamilton hit two huge threes and gave great defensive effort. He finished the game with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. In addition, Foreman scored a layup, hit a three and blocked a shot in three consecutive plays to give the Quakers a 62-53 lead with 3:39 left in the game. Foreman totaled 9 points, 2 rebounds and 1 block. Matt Howard did a adamant job on Princeton’s leading scorer Henry Caruso, limiting him to 8 points and 3 field goals.
What didn’t go well?
Penn went on a seven minute scoring drought from about the 8 minute mark to the 1 minute mark in the first half. Princeton's sophomore guard Amir Bell could not be stopped and led all scorers with 28 points but did not finish the game due to injury. Penn allowed Princeton to come from behind with Devin Cannady hitting a shot to send the game into overtime. Cannady, who ran the show for the Tigers once Bell exited the game, recorded 10 points, 3 boards and a game high 4 steals. The Quakers also struggled holding onto the ball as they had 18 turnover in the gam.
Penn takes on Saint Joseph’s in a Big 5 doubleheader on January 20th. A win against a surging Hawks team would be monumental for this youthful Penn team after a tough loss.
-Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Tony Hicks has always been a star. In his days at St. Rita of Cascia High School, Hicks led them to a Chicago Catholic League title and was the ESPN Illinois Player of the Year. At Penn, the guard was the team’s leading scorer in two of his three years and averaged double digits in each of them. Now, he is on his way to one of the most successful programs in the country and, well…he wants to be a star.
“Me just being a competitor and confident,” he told The Empire in a recent interview, “I feel like I can play anywhere.”
The soft spoken guard from just outside of Chicago began his collegiate career at Penn, where he proved himself to be one of the best players in the Ivy League, earning himself All-Ivy honors twice and scoring 1,000 points by his junior season.
However, with just two weeks left before his senior season, Hicks decided to leave the team. This decision came to the surprise of many around the Penn organization. He decided that he would sit out the season and attain a year of eligibility to become a graduate transfer. And after all of his success in the Ivy League, it was no surprise that on January 5th, Hicks committed to the ACC’s powerhouse, the University of Louisville.
As a result of sitting out, he has been forced to find a way to fill his time which is normally occupied by the basketball season. Some people may say that this time was spent “away from basketball.” But actually it's been the opposite.
“I’ve watched a lot of film,” he said. “I still work out twice a day and I’m still lifting. Just to get runs, I go to local gyms or I’ll go to New Jersey and find some good competition… I typically workout by myself. I feel like I can mentally lock in and put myself into game mode..I get a ton of shots up...[It’s also been good] to watch and reflect on my game. Now, I am gaining more of an edge and more hunger because I’m not playing.”
While some may also think that the school work would be easier without basketball, allowing him to focus more on honing his game, he disagrees.
“You almost have too much time,” he noted. “When you’re on a team everything is scheduled, so I know ‘this is when I have to do my work.’ While now, I have so much time so it sometimes feels like ‘oh, you can put that off.’ It’s tougher to discipline myself to set times and actually do work and study, while in the past, those times were already scheduled.”
Furthermore, despite the way things went down at Penn, he has no hard feelings for anyone on the team or the university. As a matter of fact, he’s been to almost every home game this season.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Hicks said in reference to his teammates. “We hang out with each other on and off the court, so I honestly will miss my teammates and the coaching staff...I am very close to all of the guys. I was the captain for the last two years. Last year, when the sophomores came in, I kind of took them under my wing in the summertime. We did everything together...I would say I am fairly close with all of the guys.”
Hicks will always miss playing in the Palestra which he says is “a special place. There aren’t too many college venues like it...Historically, it has an aura about it.”
He looks back on the game against Temple to open up his sophomore season as one of his most memorable moments at Penn.
“We ended up losing that game,” he reminisced. “It was one of those games where it was sold out. It was absolutely rocking. That’s what I am talking about when I say the Palestra is just a magical place. It was just a special game to be a part of.”
He’ll miss the city too and the love that surrounds the Penn campus. He was specific to shout out the local food trucks and Philadelphia's fantastic cheesesteaks.
But in his time off, he’s also eagerly spent a lot of time thinking about where he would end his collegiate basketball career playing. He was most interested in Louisville, Miami, and Oregon, but ultimately decided to travel to Louisville for his final collegiate season.
There were many reasons for his decision. Not only has his high school coach, Gary DeCesare, known Louisville head coach Rick Pitino for 20 years, but Hicks has a pretty close relationship with former Drexel star Damion Lee, who now plays for the Kentucky based school.
“It’s coach Pitino, it’s the ACC,” Hicks added about his choice. “It’s the highest level. The whole city is behind them. The expectation there is national title every year and that's something I’ve never been apart of...On the court, coach Pitino is very intense. But off of the court, he seemed like a real person, very genuine. He cares about his players and will do anything for them... He’s someone I want to play for. He’s a Hall of Fame coach, he’s one of the best coaches of all time. It was just something I couldn’t say no to.”
While some may question Hicks’s ability to play at one of the top programs in the country, he is not worried about that. He is confident that he is ready to go.
He understands, though, that he still has work to do and aspects of his game to improve on.
“A lot of times at Penn I would be able to finish over guys, but that won’t always be the case in the ACC. [I’ve worked on] a lot of different types of finishes around the rim, putting up floaters, so I can be creative around big men.”
Hicks will graduate in the spring as a sociology major and begin taking graduate student classes almost immediately after at Louisville. He will take his success at Penn as a basketball player to the state of Kentucky, where he can hopefully cap off his career on a high note.
Some may ultimately question his offensive efficiency or size, but the bottom line is, Tony Hicks has always found a way to succeed, whether in high school or college. Louisville should be no outlier.
Photo: USA Today Images
When the season began, most knew that Penn was bringing in a good freshman class. Jake Silpe and Tyler Hamilton had won state championships. Jackson Donahue was all-state as a sophomore. Max Rothschild and Collin McManus came in with already big frames at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds and 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, respectively.
People understood that these young guys would be good down the road, but not many thought that they would be major contributors in early January. And on January 2nd, against Binghamton University, the freshmen showed that they are more than ready to play significant minutes for the Quakers in their 80-45 win.
It wasn’t any coincidence that the freshmen of Penn combined for 40% of the game’s minutes, highlighted by guard Jackson Donahue’s 38 minutes played. They brought the energy and production on a day that Darien Nelson-Henry only played 13 minutes, Antonio Woods scored a mere 8 points, and Sam Jones shot just 20% from three.
Donahue, in specific, was coming off of an 18 point performance against Villanova and made the most out of his opportunity in the starting lineup versus Binghamton. He was able to pick up where he left off, hitting a three ball for the game’s first points. It was followed up with 14 points and 3 more threes.
“Jackson’s brought a lot to our team the last two games,” head coach Steve Donahue said. “I think these guys feed off him, he makes quick decisions and he can make shots, so that loosens everybody up. That loosens the defense up physically and it gets guys like [Matt Howard] even more open.”
After the guard Donahue opened up hot, Tyler Hamilton saw early minutes, despite only playing in 4 games and 8 total minutes prior to the appearance. He came in with 15:55 minutes left in the first half, before the likes of Darnell Foreman and Jamal Lewis, and showed that he can compete with the big boys. Although he hasn’t played much, Hamilton didn’t show much inexperience, as he instantly got an assist and then turned around to get a rebound on the defensive end.
“Tyler’s done an excellent job in the [last] month and a half,” added coach Donahue. “Where he’s come maturity wise to now, he deserves to get a shot and that’s what I do, I reward guys that come every day and practice, and make plays in practice. For me, you’ve got to reward guys. He’s playing well right now. I thought he played well today, he makes a couple open threes, he played great...He’s a little different than anyone we have. He’s probably similar to [Matt Howard] in athleticism and size. But he’s more of a guard, he’s got a little more up and down string to him. So he gives us something else we don’t have out there.”
And then late in the first half, when Penn held on to a strong, but not commanding 16 point lead, Chicago native Max Rothschild hit his fellow freshman, Jackson Donahue, for an open three. Later in the game, he followed it up with a beautiful post move to give Penn a 29 point lead.
“Max had a great week and that’s why you saw Max out there today,” coach Donahue said. “He got confident, he spun, he didn’t hesitate -- hit a jump hook.”
But it was really Jake Silpe who set the tone early. He came out early with lots of energy, diving for balls and playing with a certain amount of intensity that got his teammates going. He was the one who hit Jackson Donahue on his first three, and then three possessions later, he hit his own three pointer. It was Jake Silpe who helped to fuel this team early on.
“I think he brings such competitiveness, almost like he plays too hard,” responded coach Donahue. “I love his energy, I love his tenacity. I think he’s someone who did it in practice, I reward guys who did it in practice. And I sense he’s going to keep getting better.”
Not only does that emulate the play of Silpe, but it does for the entire 2015 freshman class. Unlike in the first half against Villanova, where the team seemed slightly defeated, Penn came out and played with a purpose against Binghamton. The freshmen provided the spark for the Quakers and each brought energy to the team in different aspects.
Donahue hit the threes and never gave out. Silpe brought the aggression. Rothschild and Hamilton played with the confidence and poise. And although McManus didn’t get to play much, when he did check in, he was able to score 2 points and corral an offensive rebound. However, each of these guys played hard and with the intensity you want from your team. They set the tone for the team.
The bottom line is, these freshmen aren’t here to wait their turn to play in the next couple years. These freshmen are proving that they are ready to produce right away.
Photo: Luke Risher-The Empire
It’s hard to win a ball game when you can’t score. The University of Pennsylvania Quakers sensed this immediately upon starting the game against the Villanova Wildcats at the Pavilion on the 28th of December, when ‘Nova jumped out to an early lead and Penn had no response. There wasn’t much of an answer for the potent Wildcat offense led by freshman star Jalen Brunson’s 22 points and Daniel Ochefu’s recently discovered offense from the wing. Penn couldn’t get much to go their way early on, as they shot 17% from the floor in the first half of Monday night’s 77-57 loss on the road to Big 5 opponent Villanova.
The poor shooting dug the team in a hole early on that was inescapable. Penn’s Sam Jones dropped a three to get the team’s first bucket after ten offensive possessions, but an 8-minute stretch of stellar defensive play by Villanova made it easy for their offense to rack up a 32-3 lead at one point in the contest. The 16th ranked Wildcats just handled the visiting Quakers on both sides of the ball by creating steals that lead to turnovers, dominating in the paint, and the standard Villanova ball movement that creates killer shots from deep. Going into the second half with a probably dejected morale and only 11 points on the scoreboard, an immediate adjustment needed to be made. Quaker head coach Steve Donahue sought some life and energy for his team and he got a little bit of that from freshman guard Jackson Donahue.
Donahue, the Connecticut native, made his first collegiate start against Villanova and provided the positive drive that propelled a much better second half for the Quakers, where they made 17 out of 31 attempted shots, a much better ratio compared to the first half’s embarrassing 5-for-29 performance. Coach Donahue spoke about the freshman’s vitality, saying “[He] is competing. That energy helps us get off to a good start.” His performance was truly impressive, as he scored 18 points, 15 of which were off the three pointers, as well as setting both season and career highs in points, three-pointers (5), rebounds (4), steals (3), and minutes played (31).
Contributing to the bounce-back half for Penn was Villanova’s attempt at zone defense, an area of the game they struggle with. ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright thought that his squad did rather poorly in that area of the game but needed to gain some in-game looks against a team with good shooters to prepare for future matchups down the road. The new defensive strategy, which was implemented for brief times during some games early on in the season, gave the Quakers a chance to execute effective offense drives of their own. Penn was unable to carry out that strategy from the jump, but proved that this squad has potential in its young core.
The Quakers have a solid group to build off of, but it is hard to play an away game at a tough place like the Pavilion against a top 20 team in the country like Villanova. Sophomore guard Antonio Woods is a key component to the success of this team. Coach Donahue has definite faith in him, as he has started every game this season and leads the team with total minutes played.
This Quaker squad, while they may look inexperienced based on their grade listed on the roster, but there are four on this roster who have played over 1,000 career collegiate minutes: senior center Darien Nelson-Henry with 2,056, Antonio Woods with 1,291, senior guard Jamal Lewis with 1,190 and junior guard Matt Howard with 1,212. In addition to those players, three sophomores have racked up over 500 minutes of playing time: guard Darnell Foreman with 831, forward Sam Jones with 795, and forward Mike Auger with 515.
Darien Nelson-Henry, the team’s starting center, is the focal point of the offense, though. His almost 12 points per game is mainly from in the paint and occasional mid-range shots, but being able to have a threat down low is a great component to have as a compliment to young shooters in a fairly competitive Ivy League. With a newly-found spotlight on Jackson Donahue, expect more from this young gun, who definitely has deep ball capability in his holster.
In the next game versus Binghamton, Penn played a completely different ball game than the one against Villanova. Coach Donahue went with a smaller starting lineup, excluding Nelson-Henry this time around. It may have been the change of pace that the team needed, as there was an instant offensive spark off of the three-ball, allowing the Quakers to go up 16-5 early. Penn would hold the Bears well defensively all game, never letting Binghamton take a lead, resulting in an 80-45 win at home. Bears head coach Tommy Dempsey noted on BUBearcats.com that, "It was a long day… We had a hard time putting the ball in the basket against their zone and then lost some energy in the first half. We weren't able to stay in the game with our energy and our defense. It's not the performance you want heading into conference play but we'll turn the page and start getting ready for Wednesday."
What Penn struggled with against Villanova was stopping the shooters from creating opportunities, and really only Virginia and Oklahoma have been able to do that so far. Against a poor shooting team like Binghamton, it is extremely important for Penn to exploit an opponent's weakness while still building off of your own capabilities.
This was the largest win for the program since a 84-44 victory over Cornell in 2006 and a great way to end the nonconference season. When Ivy League play starts to heat up against Columbia, Harvard, and Yale, experience for the entire roster is necessary for any attempt to be made at a conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth. The continued longball from up and coming stars like Jackson Donahue and Sam Jones will further propel a program in search of recognition.
Photo: Luke Risher-The Empire