Penn guard Jake Silpe fights for a loose ball against former Univeristy of Washington guard Dejounte Murray.
(John Lok/The Seattle Times)
Before the start of Penn’s game against Temple last Saturday afternoon, junior Jake Silpe had played in just two games where he totaled more than ten minutes. Those games were against Division Three Penn State-Brandywine and 2-20 Delaware State, as the Quakers, who were heavily favored, won both games by more than 50 points. Silpe’s role in the regular rotation was nonexistent.
That is, until Silpe and the Quakers squared off against Big 5 rival, Temple. Silpe posted a season high in minutes, assists, and steals against a then 9-9 Temple team that had just won two of their last three conference games.
Despite Temple’s clear ability to win against prime time opponents, the Cherry Hill East Hall of Fame inductee didn’t seem too fazed and for good reason.
Head coach Steve Donahue made it crystal clear that he had the utmost confidence in Silpe coming into the game.
“That’s how our program is. If you [put in the work], I’m going to reward you if it makes us better, and I think Jake makes us better,” Donahue explained after the game.
Within four and a half minutes into the game, Penn’s head coach subbed out captains Darnell Foreman and Max Rothschild, who had struggled early on against Temple’s defense. They had missed two shots combined, turned the ball over twice, and fouled once. Instead of bringing in exceptional shooters and rotational players like Jackson Donahue or Caleb Wood, Donahue shocked many, putting in Silpe. The 185-pound guard hadn’t played more than 14 minutes in a game this season while Wood and Donahue had both played 14 or more minutes nine times each.
However, after a brief stint, Silpe was taken back out.
While many Penn fans may have thought that Silpe’s only opportunity to show why he deserves a higher spot in the rotation had passed, the guard came in once again, this time for sophomore guard Ryan Betley with eight minutes left in the first half. Donahue wasn’t just playing Silpe for a minute to spill Foreman. Silpe was going to be a part of the rotation. In a game against one of the top programs in the country, the Quakers were going to need the energy that Silpe brought to the floor during his freshman year at Penn, where he had stepped in for star guards Tony Hicks (transfer) and Antonio Woods (academically ineligible). Silpe had to step up and play point alongside one of Penn’s best players in recent memory, Matt Howard, managing to prevail against all expectations, including his own, with energy and defensive intensity on the floor every night.
Silpe acknowledged how hard it was to play point guard at a college level in an article written by Matt Fine of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
“The physicality and the mental toughness is so different [from high school],” Silpe said. “Playing a lot of minutes as a guard is pretty tiring and mentally fatiguing. That, and I should take more of a role as a leader on this team in the future, even as a freshman.”
And this weekend, Silpe had to step in again, but this time as a veteran junior in an important Big 5 game. He exceeded expectations and played the best half of his season. The 6-foot-2 guard’s play looked like an impersonation of the Road Runner in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.
Silpe sped across the floor, trying to both evade and outsmart the Temple offense and defense.
In one play, he snuck through defenders on the baseline into an open spot. After being slung the ball from Max Rothschild, Silpe dribbled up the baseline and slipped a pass through defenders at the basket for an AJ Brodeur layup.
Seconds later, he returned the favor to Rothschild and contested a Quinton Rose layup, who had beaten Rothschild to the basket.
After a media timeout was called, he got back to work, promptly stealing the ball from Temple guard Alani Moore II.
Later, after missing a contested layup, the former Mid-Atlantic Maccabi Games Gold Medalist sprinted down the court to guard 6-foot-7 forward JP Moorman.
He then quickly hopped out to contest a Nate Pierre-Louis jumpshot, managed to snatch up the rebound, and threw the ball to Ryan Betley for an open three.
After Betley missed, the junior guard sped down the court to intercept a pass to the corner. He dribbled the ball back up and threw another pass to Betley for yet another three. This time, Betley sunk the shot.
The sea of Quaker red and blue roared for a full minute until a media timeout was called.
Still riding his Road Runner-esque adrenaline high, Silpe now had the confidence of coach Donahue to run point. Again, he didn’t disappoint.
Within the next three minutes, Silpe would dish out a beautiful pass into the lane to Antonio Woods for an easy bucket, help force a turnover, and cross up Temple guard Quinton Rose to break a double team in order to feed Betley for a buzzer beating three-point opportunity.
Silpe also played impeccable defense on an always dangerous Josh Brown. While he guarded the senior guard, Brown scored zero points and dished out zero assists during the first half.
This feat is especially impressive because Brown averages four points and nearly two assists in the first halves of his games. Being able to shut down someone who leads his team in assists and is fourth on his team in points per game is crucial to limiting a Temple offense that can heat up out of nowhere.
Being able to contain dynamic players at a moments notice is something that Penn is going to need a lot of if they want to do well in Ivy Madness this March, especially with the plethora of impressive guard play in the Ivy. Princeton guard Devin Cannady and Brown guard Brandon Anderson are in the top 100 in points per game in all of Division 1 basketball. In addition, Dartmouth has two guards in the top 75 national three-point field goal percentage column, with Aaryn Rai coming in at 11th. Given the talented guards in the Ivy, having someone as dynamic on the defensive end as Silpe is a great sight for Penn fans. In the second half, Silpe kept up the efficient play.
Throughout the rest of the game, Silpe focused mainly on locking down Josh Brown.
He forced a shot clock violation and nearly caused another one that ended in a badly missed shot from Brown.
Silpe continually put pressure on Brown picking him up at either half court or well before half court. He chased the senior down relentlessly, leading him to another scoring drought. Silpe’s incredible defense contributed to the lack of offensive production from the Newark native. Brown would end the night with eight points and two assists, shooting 33% from the floor.
Silpe would finish off his night by committing his first foul, putting his body on the line diving on the floor for a loose ball and minutes later feeding AJ Brodeur for a three-pointer that would slash Temple’s eight point lead to just five points.
Even though Temple would etch out the win over Penn, Silpe was an integral part of the team’s ability to hold Temple to just 60 points, about seven points shy of their average. Despite failing to score, Silpe’s contributions went past just the box score.
It’s been a long and sometimes bumpy road for Silpe during his career at Penn and Donahue finds his journey admirable.
“[Despite what] he’s been through, starting as a freshman and then not playing at all for a long time, [he never lost] his perspective on what he needs to do in whatever role he’s in,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s confidence in Silpe throughout the game served as a confidence boost for the former South Jersey Player of the Year. With a strong game under his belt and providing the fans a taste of the possibility of a revived Jake Silpe, the Quakers have the opportunity to add more guard depth come Ivy Madness.
Penn guard Antonio Woods at the Palestra.
(Ananya Chandra/ The Daily Pennsylvanian)
There was 7:45 left in the game when Princeton’s Devin Cannady scored a layup to cut Penn’s lead to three. The Palestra was starting to get tense. Would Penn allow Princeton to storm back and steal another win from them, just as they had done in the Ivy League Tournament almost 10 months ago? 15 seconds later, Antonio Woods would answer that question. He sliced through the defense, powering through a foul from Princeton’s Myles Stephens.
Woods was not going to let the Tigers have this one.
Following the bucket, Woods didn’t show much emotion. Per usual, he was cool, calm, and collected as The Palestra roared with enthusiasm. Woods sunk the free throw, killing the Tigers momentum, and giving the Quakers a 5-point lead with 7:30 remaining. The Quakers never looked back.
Antonio Woods was sitting in his family friend’s house in the Philadelphia area. He shouldn’t have been there though. He should have been at the Palestra. He should have been playing against Princeton. He should have been competing with his teammates. Instead, he didn’t know when he would be able to play college basketball again.
That night, January 9th, 2016, was warmer than usual. It was 54 degrees outside. Even though the weather said one thing, it felt cold outside for Penn fans. Really cold.
Without Woods, one of their best players, the Penn basketball team fell to Princeton. It wasn’t an upset. Actually, many thought the young Quakers couldn’t keep up with the experienced Tigers, who were 9-4 heading into the game. But head coach Steve Donahue’s team came out ready to play. Led by freshmen Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe, along with loveable senior big Darien Nelson-Henry, the Quakers took Princeton to overtime, surprising much of the Ivy League. In place of Woods, the freshmen guards fought until the final second, as Silpe totaled 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in 42 minutes and Donahue put up 16 points on 4-6 from three in 41 minutes. The Quakers shouldn’t have even been in the game, let alone nearly won. This one hurt more than most. Not only had they lost their starting point guard, but they had had the game in their hands. The warm weather, at that point, was irrelevant. It felt cold.
Following their loss, coach Donahue fought back tears in the press conference when asked about Woods. The sophomore guard, who had been one of the most talented in the conference, was deemed to have made “insufficient academic progress under University policy” the Friday night before their Ivy League opener against their long time rival.
Fast forward two years and Antonio Woods is back on the court and playing some of the best basketball of his career. And this time around, he wasn’t going to take a loss to Princeton for an answer. A few days before this year’s game against Princeton, Woods made it clear in a speech to the team just how important this game was for everyone involved.
“I basically told them that this is a big one,” Woods said of his speech. “Penn [versus] Princeton. Rivalry. Don’t take it for granted. I guess for me, I didn’t take it for granted but just being out, missing the opportunities of actually playing against them, being a part of the rivalry, it was eye opening not being able to suit up. Street clothes, watching from the bench. I just told them don’t take it for granted, embrace the opportunity because you’ll remember these moments.”
After having to sit out the second half of the 2015-16 season and the entire 2016-17 season, Woods earned a redshirt year. Each time sat and watched his team compete against the Tigers without him, it ate at him. That made this year’s game against Princeton, when Woods returned, different than just a regular game.
“I definitely had this one marked on my calendar just because I’ve only played them twice in my career and I’m a junior now, so I missed them...five times,” Woods said.
The 6-foot-1 Woods showed up ready to play Saturday afternoon against the reigning Ivy League champions. Despite being covered by last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Myles Stephens, the Cincinnati native notched 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 0 turnovers, in addition to shooting 4-9 from the field in 35 minutes of play. In the 76-70 win, his first ever career win against Princeton (and everyone on the team’s first win versus Princeton for that matter), Woods stood out, making big plays when the team needed it most. Whether it was his and-one layup with 7:30 remaining, or a flip shot with his left hand with 1:49 remaining to put the Quakers back up five, Woods was a veteran leader out there on the court.
“I think Antonio Woods brings a lot of experience in the backcourt to them,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson said after the game.
With Woods back, the Quakers are on their way to having their first winning record since the 2011-12 season. The guard looks notably bigger and is now listed at 195 pounds after being listed at 180 pounds during his sophomore season. He’s attacking the basket with ferocity and providing another scoring option for Donahue.
“What I do like, as opposed to last year, is that we have different ways to score,” Donahue said following the win. He cited one of those ways as Woods’ ability to get to the rim.
After starting the season slow, posting only one game with five or more points in his first four games, Woods has turned it up recently. In his last four games Woods has scored in double digits three times. Woods has also been more aggressive, averaging 8.25 shots per game in the last four games. In the 11 games before that, he was averaging just 6.8 shots per game.
“My teammates encourage me to be aggressive,” Woods said. “My coaches encourage me to be aggressive. So for me, I am coming out with that mentality of being aggressive night in and night out, just to help my team win.”
Donahue has seen the same aggression in Woods’ game recently, especially as he gets more acclimated to playing again.
“He has [been getting more comfortable],” Donahue added. “I think, one, the rust is off. Two, he’s in better shape. Three, he’s just getting used to college basketball.”
Woods is still focused on improving and getting back up to speed on offense, working on the little things and citing “ball movement” as a major area for improvement.
Woods has been a stronghold on the defensive end as well. Penn often goes small, sometimes even with three point guards on the floor. Woods has taken on the role of guarding taller and bigger players on opposing teams when this happens. Against Toledo, Woods was tasked with covering their top scorer, 6-foot-7 Tre’Shaun Fletcher. Against Princeton, he had to play up to competition once again, as he was called upon to stick the 6-foot-4 Amir Bell whom he held to 12 points in the entire game and just 5 points in the first half.
Two years earlier, no one knew if Woods would still be playing basketball at Penn. Now, with the heart of conference play right around the corner, Antonio Woods is a big reason why the Penn Quakers have their best record in a long time.
Penn guard Darnell Foreman dribbles up the court at the Palestra.
(Ilana Wurman/ The Daily Pennsylvanian)
Chris Hadfield, who was the first Canadian astronaut in space, said that “leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It's about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter.”
Penn's senior guard and team captain Darnell Foreman displayed these values with his ability to bounce back from a personally underwhelming first half in Penn's game against Toledo last Friday.
Foreman ended the first half with just 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. These numbers are especially frustrating because Foreman is one of the pillars of Penn's team. This trend of shaky first halves has, unfortunately, plagued Foreman throughout the past five games.
Since Penn's game against Howard (12/4), Foreman has scored an average of roughly 28% of his total points per game in the first half. As for assists and rebounding, the Camden native dished out an average of around 42% of his total assists and about 45% of his total rebounds within the first twenty minutes as well. The rest has come in the second halves.
Foreman's numbers don’t stack up well against other premier Ivy guards. Princeton's Devin Cannady and Brown's Brandon Anderson are two guards who have similar skill sets and styles of play as Foreman, but have played much more effectively in the first halves of their last five games.
Since Brown's game against Central Connecticut (12/2), fellow 6-foot-1 guard Brandon Anderson, has totaled an average of around 45% of his total points in the first 20 minutes of the game. In addition, Brown's sophomore guard produced roughly 57% of his total assists and snatched up approximately 53% of his total rebounds in the first half.
Even though Anderson's numbers would indicate that he is a good first half player, fellow 6-foot-1 guard Devin Cannady’s numbers reveal that he blows his competitors out of the water.
Since Princeton's game against Cal Poly (12/16), Indiana native Devin Cannady has scored an average of 54% of his total points before halftime. The former All-Ivy Honorable Mention typically passed 60% of his total assists and collected close to 65% of his total rebounds during this period of the game.
While establishing a lead in a game is important, fighting to grab the lead from behind is a feat that proves what kind of player you are. The second halves of the last five games, when the Quakers have gone 4-1, have been where Foreman has shined brightest. More importantly, he has been a spark plug for the team when the pressure has been on.
Foreman's ability to lead by example is uncanny. The former South Jersey Times Player of the Year has scored more second half points in the last five games than Dartmouth guard Miles Wright who sits nine places above Foreman in the Ivy's points per game category. Wright also measures four inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Foreman.
However, being a leader isn't just about personal success. Foreman is more than willing to incorporate his teammates in possible scoring opportunities as well.
Foreman has been one of the best passers in the Ivy since his sophomore year. The former Ivy League Rookie of the Week has placed in the top 15 of the Ivy in assists per game in his last three years of play. This year, he placed fifth in the Ivy, averaging more than 3.5 assists per game, and fourth in assist percentage with 24%.
Looking back at his last five games, Foreman had more second half assists (9) than anyone on his team and even Brandon Anderson, who is a place above him in assists per game category in the Ivy.
Even more impressive, Foreman has more second half assists in the last five games than Boston College's star guard Ky Bowman, who has found his way into the NCAA's top 50 players in assists per game. Bowman also managed to lead his team to victory over a No. 1 ranked Duke team. Foreman's ability to be a playmaker down the stretch has proved important for head coach Steve Donahue, providing him with stability at the point guard position.
In addition to second half statistical achievements, Foreman showed what coach Donahue means when he says he “needs a certain amount of grittiness” from his players. Foreman took this into his own hands in their most recent battle against Toledo.
Down for much of the half, Foreman took charge and even put his body on the line when he flew into his bench in an effort to recover a basketball. He fought until the last possible second, scoring Penn's final point of the game. He tallied a team-high 12 second half points, along with 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists in 16 minutes. While Penn came up short, Foreman's energy was one of the few bright spots down the stretch. His aggressiveness and ability to create was a large reason why the Quakers stayed in the game even as Toledo shot the ball well from the field in the second half (72% from the field).
The bottom line is that Foreman is the floor general of the Penn Quakers, and rightfully so. He leads his team through adversity while overcoming his own struggles and seamlessly manages to incorporate his teammates into successful scoring situations. And even though Penn may have lost against Toledo, they know that they can rely on their selfless leader “especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter.”