Penn guard Caleb Wood attempts a three-pointer against Yale at the Palestra.
(Sam Holland/The Daily Pennsylvanian)
19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 fouls, and 1 turnover in a total of 54 minutes.
This is the statline from Penn’s City 6 battle versus Saint Joseph’s where head coach Steve Donahue fully utilized one of his favorite tools: his bench.
The game was a perfect representation of Donahue’s value for his bench. The Quakers’ coach substituted nine players in and out of the game 38 times. That was eight more substitutions than St. Joe’s.
While some fans may be wondering why it’s beneficial to substitute as frequently as Donahue does, Penn’s ring leader prides himself on rewarding players who impress him in practice.
One player that Donahue has started to integrate into the rotation after struggling to find time this season is Cherry Hill native, Jake Silpe.
“I have incredible respect for how [Silpe] handled the last year and a half not playing,” Donahue stated after the St. Joe’s game.
Donahue specifically has admired Silpe’s work ethic and his ability to not sulk or get down on himself. These traits have allowed him to sharpen his basketball IQ by creating an exceptional understanding of Penn’s offense.
Because of this, the third year coach awarded him the title of Penn’s most effective cutter and continued to applaud his ability to create spacing, move the ball, and shoot.
He also complimented the junior guard on his defensive play saying that Silpe is “tough as nails” and “get every loose ball.”
SIlpe’s ability to create opportunities for the Penn offense through undervalued hustle plays is one of the most prominent aspects of his game. This showed up in their matchup with the Hawks on a consistent basis.
From the 12 minute mark to the 7 and a half minute mark of the first half of the St. Joe’s game, Silpe guarded three different people, including 6-foot-10 forward Anthony Longpré and even got a rebound over the Hawks’ big man. Then, just minutes later, Silpe forced a travel by forward James Demery by staying in front of him as he attempted a spin move towards the basket.
As a result, Silpe is staying on the floor and has compiled season highs in four of his last five games in two categories, three pointers attempted and three pointers made. In fact, one of his best games of the season was against Temple, where he exemplified hustle, dishing out 2 assists, collecting 3 steals, and playing for 15 minutes (all of which were season highs).
However, one quality that is often overlooked about Silpe are his leadership qualities.
The 185-pound guard has terrific communication skills on the court, constantly unifying and encouraging his teammates. Donahue acknowledged this attribute well before the St. Joe’s game.
“He’s always been like that and [giving Silpe playing time] just feels fair. He builds our culture the right way,” the head coach explained after the St. Joe’s game.
This leadership characteristic is something that Penn will desperately need when senior guard Darnell Foreman graduates.
On the other hand, Foreman’s future departure will also allow Donahue to deploy a bigger and more physical lineup. With Rothschild and Brodeur as threats in the paint, some extra shooting when Brodeur can’t finish or some muscle at the rim when Rothschild gets into foul trouble will be crucial. The potential for this dual threat presents itself in the form of current freshman Jarrod Simmons.
The 6-foot-8 forward has played in all but one game this season including three games where he played double digits in minutes and eight games where he played for 8 or more minutes. The multifaceted Pennsylvania native has also had two games where he scored in double digits.
Despite Simmons’ streakiness throughout the year, Donahue has kept his faith in the young forward.
“I think Jarrod’s got a chance to be a really good player. One, he can really shoot and he’s got a really good feel for the game. As he gets stronger and more confident, I think he’s gonna be a handful,” he explained after Penn’s game against Penn State Brandywine where Simmons exploded for a career high of 16 points. Another addition to Penn’s dangerous bench is fellow Pennsylvania native, Devon Goodman.
The 6-foot tall guard has appeared in 16 of Penn’s games, averaging above 9 minutes per contest. Unfortunately, Goodman has played in spurts. In Penn’s loss against Fairfield, the sophomore guard scored 8 points, dished out 3 assists, grabbed 3 rebounds, and even snuck in 2 steals in 28 minutes of play.
However, in Penn’s next game, which went into overtime, Goodman didn’t step up and struggled to generate offense against Navy. The Germantown Academy alum scored zero points, produced just 1 assist and 1 steal in 13 minutes of play. But, because of Donahue’s substitution system, Penn can milk as many good minutes as they see fit to help him find his way back into the rotation on a more regular basis. It was just a few weeks ago, in their Ivy League opener against Princeton, that Goodman was granted 12 minutes of play after logging three DNP’s in the five games prior. Goodman provides energy, quickness, and defense, but with Penn’s deep bench, Goodman will have to outplay another guard who is being eased back into playing time.
Junior guard Jackson Donahue, who is coming off of a back injury, has been one of their most consistent players coming off the bench, averaging 12.4 minutes per game when healthy.
However, consistency doesn’t always mean productivity as Donahue has struggled to put up double digit scoring games this season, especially as his three point shot hasn’t fallen on a consistent basis. Donahue is an able three-point shooter (37.8% his freshman season) who has thrived in the last season and half off of his leadership and defensive ability. Most importantly, he has provided toughness and that attribute, regardless of his scoring woes, has proved invaluable to Donahue.
Penn’s electric bench wouldn’t be complete without the shooting abilities of senior guard Caleb Wood. The soft spoken “secret weapon” can catch fire at a moment's notice. Even despite his recent struggles from beyond the arc, Wood has shown an incredible ability to shoot from three, averaging 1.6 made threes per game.
Wood especially caught fire during a recent five-game stretch starting with Temple, where he averaged 14 points per game, shot 40% from the three point line, and even tallied 3 rebounds per game. It included a much needed 22-point outing in an overtime win against Brown.
Senior Sam Jones has also complemented Donahue’s system well, appearing in 18 games this season for specific three point shooting situations. Jones has shot a career high 41% from beyond the arc but hasn’t seen consistent minutes due to the log jam of players in front of him. Freshman Eddie Scott, who is out indefinitely with a wrist injury, was a constant face in the lineup when he was healthy. He brought unique versatility offensively and defensively to the Penn bench in the nine games he played in. If and when he returns, his multifaceted skill set provides an interesting twist to the Penn lineup.
Ultimately, Donahue’s constant substitutions have allowed players who have worked hard to show him they can help the team, while also giving the starters small breaks to help them catch their breath.
In fact, sophomore Ryan Betley was subbed out five times in the first half of the St. Joe’s game, averaged a little over a minute on the bench per substitution, and still got to play around 75% of the first half of the St. Joe’s game.
The Quakers’ depth has given them the upper hand on a nightly basis, helping to define a spectacular season for the Quakers and giving the fans a blanket of comfort when the teams’ stars are given a break.
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament