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
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament