It wasn’t deja vu until it was.
For a while, it was another vision entirely, this 2014-15 Penn basketball team.
Who was this Darnell Foreman with the uncanny floor vision? This Sam Jones with the spot-up sharpshooting? This hustle and offensive rebounding tenacity across the board?
Penn trailed 14-5 early but got it together to build a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play at home against Delaware State, one of the worst teams in Division I last season.
And that’s when the deja vu set in. The rebounds started drying up. Jones’s shots started rimming out, giving him a 3-for-11 night from the field. Foreman continued controlling the point but not the ball as Tony Hicks took over, settling for and missing perimeter shot after perimeter shot as the second half wore on. Then Hicks airballed a three-pointer in the final minute, missing what would have been a game-winning shot as time expired and failing to successfully take the game into his own hands in overtime.
It became the Tony Hicks show, and it didn’t work. Sure, Hicks’s stat line was fantastic – 31 points, five three-pointers, five rebounds and three assists. Sure, this game could have easily went either way.
But it didn’t. It slipped away once again, this time to a no-name visitor that lost more games last season than even Penn.
Penn coach Jerome Allen’s most telling postgame quote was this: “The best thing we have going for us is that we like one another.”
That was evident in the early going when at times it seemed as though Penn would hustle the Hornets right out of the Palestra. But good vibes are fueled by winning. Last season’s Quakers fractured because they couldn’t get it together in crunchtime after crunchtime. A few more slip-aways like this won’t be good for this team’s psyche, a danger that looms as large for the veterans who have endured the hard times of the last two seasons as anyone else.
Having said that, this team is young. Seven of the top 10 scorers from last year’s squad are gone. If these Quakers played Delaware State in February, they’d probably stand a much greater chance of winning. Whether or not that development comes to fruition, though, we now know that Penn has some potent pieces in the mix. Antonio Woods notched 11 points in his collegiate debut, a performance that shouldn’t be overlooked. Neither should Foreman’s three assists.
But it’s easy to overlook these efforts when the outcome looks so hauntingly familiar.
When Temple handed Penn a season-opening loss at the Palestra last November, it was clear to me that Penn’s ceiling for that season had already been reached, and that it was unacceptably low. I’m not so sure about this year’s Quakers after a similar season-opening loss only because the youth on this team is so abundant and versatile. In the final analysis, though, it looks like a profound transformation of green and inconsistent talent into teamwork like clockwork will be neccessary for this team to be competitive at all come Ivy play.
In other words, same as it ever was.