Villanova beat Penn today in the Pavilion, 77-57. Early on, Penn had trouble keeping up with the talent, speed, and strength of the Wildcats, as they only managed 3 points halfway through the first half. Last season, the Quakers hung with the ranked team for much of the game, but Villanova made sure to minimize their chances at victory in the first half.
What looked like a total domination flipped sides in the second half as Penn outscored Villanova 46-38 after scoring only 11 points in the first half.
Jalen Brunson led all scorers with 22 points, but it was Daniel Ochefu who set the tone early for the ‘Cats. He scored 9 points in the first three minutes of the game and the team rode his good start.
Penn was led by freshman Jackson Donahue, who scored 18 points and had 5 threes to go with 3 steals.
Villanova next hosts Xavier on Thursday, December 31st. Penn, on the other hand, plays Binghamton on January 2nd at the Palestra.
In a Big 5 matchup between Drexel and Penn, overtime was needed to decide the game. Both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net throughout the night but Drexel would come away with the win, 53-52.
Both teams combined for 88 points going into the extra period where Penn had the opportunity to win the game in the closing seconds but was unable to hit the go-ahead shot.
Penn’s Antonio Woods led all scorers with 17 points, while Darien Nelson-Henry filled the stat sheet with 10 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Drexel was led in large part by Kazembe Abif, who recorded his second double-double of the season with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Tavon Allen and Rashann London added 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Next up for Drexel is Iona on the 28th, while Penn will make the short trip to the Pavilion to face off against Big 5 rival #17 Villanova.
Photo: USA Today Images
It was just a week ago that The Empire published an article titled, “Success of Penn lies in the hands of their guard play.” It was no surprise that the Quakers first win in about three weeks came after solid play from their backcourt.
When Ursinus College stepped into the Palestra, not many people thought it would be that close. The Division III team came into the game on a four game skid and not even their coach, Kevin Small, thought it was possible.
“I don’t know that we imagined...ever being in a game late, but we certainly had a great time competing.”
The Bears fought hard, led by junior guard Matt Knowles, who dropped 5 threes for 26 points. The team played tough, but in the end, the Quakers pulled away. In the early parts of the first half, Ursinus led 17-10. At halftime, the score was even. But when the buzzer sounded, it was the guard play that helped lead the team to victory.
Matt Howard easily led the way, tallying a career high 23 points and 11 rebounds. With his first collegiate double-double, the South Carolina native was on from the jump, as he scored 11 points in the first half. He was a dominant force, who for much of the game, could not be stopped.
At first glance though, it doesn’t seem like the other Quaker guards did that well, as the rest of the backcourt shot 8-26 from the field. But it was the intangibles that set them apart.
Antonio Woods specifically, stood out. During the second half, when they were holding on to a steady, but not cemented, lead, the sophomore caught the ball many times at the top of the key with wide open three pointers. For the most part, he wisely ignored the temptation, instead opting to look for better shots.
He spent much of the game on Knowles, and didn’t do a terrible job. Knowles was just on fire. The young man from Waverly, Pennsylvania is a big time scorer, as he averaged around 20 points in their recent trip overseas, according to coach Small. He hit many shots at the end of the shot clock or with a hand in his face. There was nothing that Woods could do but keep his hand raised and say “good shot.”
His counterpart at the shooting guard position to begin the game was Darnell Foreman. The lefty hit a jumpshot early and did his job. He didn’t force many shots and he looked solid on the other end of the floor. When Howard and shooter Sam Jones got hot, Foreman knew better than to think only of himself. He worked the ball around and found shots for the guys that were hot, as he had 4 assists in 20 minutes of play.
Senior Jamal Lewis came out aggressive off the bench, shooting the ball 7 times in the first half, including a beautiful spin move that cut the Ursinus lead to 5 points. But it was his energy that brought up the play of his teammates.
“You know, in some ways it has,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said when asked about if Lewis’s aggressiveness was a recent point of emphasis with him. “At this point in his career, he is a good stand still shooter...So we’ve been asking him in practice to think about it more because he’s been driving it so much...I do think out of all of our guards, he is someone who can make a standstill three, so we are going to encourage him to do that.”
Lewis should continue improving and stroking the ball well. He had many good takes Saturday that he just couldn’t stick, but they will go in, in the future. Additionally, he was able to play completely under control by allowing 0 turnovers. The pressure he put on the defense kept them honest in the first half and opened opportunities for others.
Even fellow freshmen, Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue, chipped in. Although they both didn’t have their best showings, they gave bits and pieces to the team’s success. Silpe took the ball hard many times to the rack, but was unable to come away with the bucket. Those shots will fall, as he is still adapting to the college game. He additionally had 3 assists to go with 2 offensive rebounds. It is not a secret that he could have been more efficient on offense and defense, but the Cherry Hill East graduate played hard and gave what he could on an “off day.”
Donahue on the other hand, struggled at times on the floor, as he went 0-3 from the field. It was the Temple game when he picked up the slack for his teammates, and on Saturday afternoon, his teammates picked it up for him. This is the way basketball works. When someone struggles, someone else steps up.
On the good side, Donahue currently has a lot of confidence stroking the ball and he should see a couple of the shots he took against Ursinus drop in the future.
Overall, the guards had a pretty solid game offensively and defensively. Although the stats may say otherwise, they played with intensity and energy that allowed the team to run away with the win. However, if they want to contend for an Ivy League title, the guards will need to continue playing to their strengths and weaknesses.
Photo: Luke Risher-The Empire
After a 4-1 start, the Penn Quakers have dropped their last four games. Although they are through past the quarter point in the season, head coach Steve Donahue has yet to establish a consistent allocation of minutes in the backcourt rotation. This is largely in part due to the unpredictable play from the guards.
The best player in the Quaker’s backcourt so far has been Antonio Woods. Woods is a combo-guard who stepped into a role with more scoring responsibility following Tony Hick’s departure. In nine games, Woods has averaged 11.9 points per game, highlighted by a 22 point game against Temple, in which he shot 50% on 3-pointers and kept control of the ball with only one turnover to go along with 7 assists. Despite the potential seen in games like this, Woods has also shown inconsistency throughout this season. In the Quaker’s toughest matchup of the season against the University of Washington, Woods went 0-10 from the field en route to a 37 point loss. For the Quakers to find success this season, the key is to find a consistent scoring punch from the backcourt, especially when Antonio Woods is struggling.
Junior guard Matt Howard built upon his promising sophomore campaign and has produced a pretty solid season for the Quakers, averaging 9.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. His offensive rating per 100 possessions of 107.1 is the best among all Quaker guards. The biggest knock on Howard this season has been his 3-point and free throw shooting of 26% and 56% respectively. Despite his low percentages, Howard has rightfully not lost confidence in his shot and is getting up an average of 3.8 3-point attempts per game. Even with the streaky start, Howard’s percentages last season of 32% on 3-pointers and 69% from the free throw line suggests that as this season progresses and he becomes more comfortable with Coach Donahue’s first-year offense, his 3-point and free throw percentages should improve.
Losing Tony Hicks set up highly touted freshman Jake Slipe to begin his collegiate career as one of Penn’s starting guards. To this point, the freshmen has not played up to expectations. Specifically, the Cherry Hill native has struggled with his shooting, successful on only 25% of his field goals, 11% of his 3-point shots, and 63% on his free throws. However, Slipe may be experiencing the natural adjustment period that comes with the high school to college transition. This is evident with his team-leading 2.6 personal fouls per game.
At this point in Jake Slipe’s career, he might be best served as the first guard off the bench until he develops enough defensively to guard his opponents without getting himself into foul trouble. This season, the Quakers as a team have struggled to force many turnovers by their opponents (10.1 opponent turnovers per game) and the freshman shares these struggles with his teammates. He has managed .7 steals per game and is yet to record a block. Slipe has the potential to become a better defender than we have seen. When it comes to measuring a player’s individual defense, an important factor is the player’s willingness to be aggressive and communicate. His foul trouble, if anything, shows that he is committed to aggressive defense. Slipe needs to use this aggressiveness to force more opponent turnovers. He also has pretty good size for a freshman at 6-2 and 185 lbs. As he hits the works on his quickness and footwork with the Penn coaching staff, Slipe will no doubt improve as a one on one defender.
With Slipe still adjusting, coach Donahue has given extended minutes to Jamal Lewis, Jackson Donahue, and Darnell Foreman. After struggling to get on the floor consistently in the first 4 games, senior guard Jamal Lewis has played at least 14 minutes in each of his last 5 games.
Against Temple, freshman guard Jackson Donahue played a season/career high of 18 minutes and got all 12 of his points from 3 pointers by connecting on 4-8 from downtown. Jackson Donahue has the shooting range to complement Jamal Lewis’s offensive awareness and defensive experience. The two of them are a nice tandem of talents that Coach Donahue should continue to experiment with giving more minutes.
Slipe has not been alone in his struggles this season. Penn had to be expecting a boost in offensive production from Darnell Foreman. To this point, Foreman has failed to breach double-digits in his scoring output. During the Quakers’ current four-game losing streak, Foreman has shot 22% from the field, no doubt an underwhelming number. However, Foreman has shot very well (83%) from the free throw line. He should look to continue to attack the basket off the dribble for points from the charity stripe. Getting more opportunities at the free throw line will help Foreman get out of his shooting slump by forcing his opponents to play less obstructive defense against him. It is no secret that Foreman earns his bread on the defensive side of the court. If he can become more offensively efficient, Coach Donahue should increase his minutes on the floor.
The Quakers have 10 days off in between their last game against Temple and their next game against Ursinus on December 19th. During this break in action, coach Donahue needs to re-establish confidence in his struggling backcourt. With just four matches left before Ivy-league conference play begins for Penn, the time is now for Coach Donahue to lay the frameworks of success for the rest of the season.
It was just two weeks ago that The Empire published an article titled “2015-16 season a complete turnaround for Penn.” It was justified after the Quakers had just trounced a gritty and talented La Salle basketball team. Since that game, the team from West Philadelphia has struggled mightily, losing three straight games, two of them against teams with sub-.500 records.
There have been many reasons for their lack of success, but the main problem has been a lack of efficient scoring and inconsistent play.
Yes, against Lafayette, the team managed to rack up 86 points. It was the defense that failed them this game as they surrendered 92 points. But the team struggled to score at the beginning of the game (31 points in the first half), which has been a common sight for Penn recently.
Against La Salle, the Quakers were down by 10 at one point in the first half. Granted, they did claw their way back into the game, but getting down by such a margin is hard to come back from. In other matchups they haven’t been so fortunate.
Versus the Pac-12 team, Washington, Penn couldn’t slow down the Huskies from the jump, as they managed only 30 points at halftime. Then three games later against Navy, they accumulated a mere 25 points at intermission.
This was all capped off by their last matchup against George Mason, where they only managed 16 points in the first half. This problem has plagued them, so it has come to no surprise that they have lost 3 of the last 4 games.
The bottom line is, Penn cannot be successful if they continue to get off to slow starts. In most of the games, they’ve played admiringly to get back into the game, but it hasn’t been enough. Part of the reason why they have struggled in the infant stages of contests has been their early inconsistent shooting.
Coach Steve Donahue puts an emphasis on shooting three pointers. Much of Penn’s offense revolves around the ability to sink three point shots and consistently shoot around the 40% mark. But this hasn’t been the case before the first half.
In the first halves of the Lafayette and Navy games, they made only one first half three pointer in each. This set them down by double digit points early on. Not only is this unacceptable for any team, but for a squad that lives on three pointers, there is no way Penn can win consistently without a complete game effort.
All in all, Penn has the potential. They have the talent, experience, and ability. But if they continue to dig themselves huge holes to fill in the late minutes of the game, the Quakers will once again be looking at a sub .500 season. The team needs to find a way to get going earlier because they don’t have enough talent to fight back from double digit leads every single outing.
And who knows? If Penn starts to perform better in the early parts of games, we could be looking at a team that competes with the top of the Ivy League.
Photo: University of Pennsylvania