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 loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament