There will be a lot written and said about Penn’s growing pains throughout this season.
People will lament coach Jerome Allen’s ability to develop young talent, watch as freshmen like Mike Auger and Antonio Woods develop good and bad habits and yell when Sam Jones heats up from three one night and can’t knock one down the next.
But all of that won’t matter one bit if the elder statesmen of the team don’t clean up their own bad habits.
Allen admitted following Penn’s loss to Rider on Tuesday night that he wanted to get these freshmen, so vital to the development to the Quakers’ program and Allen’s job security, some winning experience as soon as possible.
The only problem is, his veterans, the players who should be carrying the team, are inhibiting the growth that the freshmen have been able to experience over the course of two games.
Had junior Darien Nelson-Henry been able to close out Delaware State in the waning minutes on Saturday night, Woods, Auger, Jones and Darnell Foreman would have experienced what it feels like to win in their first collegiate game.
But what happened on Tuesday didn’t just rob the freshmen of a winning experience. It put them in a position where it was hard for them to develop.
Darien Nelson-Henry and Greg Louis each picked up two personal fouls early in the first half and left Auger and Jones out on the floor as the Quakers’ two big men, leading to a run from Rider that led to the Broncs taking a 14-point lead heading into half.
From there, even once Nelson-Henry and Louis returned in the second half, the Quakers fell out of their system as they tried to climb back into the contest, making the freshmen force things the same way that the upperclassmen were.
Sure, there were some bright spots. Auger, despite being undersized at the center position for more of the game than he or Allen surely envisioned going into the night, put up 10 points and eight rebounds and showed an intensity on the boards that Penn has lacked in recent years. Woods dished out four assists while making just one turnover.
But the negatives far outweighed the positives. Rather than fixing its defensive rotations coming out of halftime, Penn continued to overcommit, leading to Rider shooting 10-for-18 from downtown. Penn’s offense looked stagnant at times, and even when the right pass was made, the Quakers missed open shots more often than not.
Regarding the fouls that the two healthy, veteran big men picked up, all Allen said was that “The ball bounces that way sometimes.”
But at this point in Allen’s term as Penn’s head coach, or even in Nelson-Henry’s career, the ball shouldn’t bounce that way as often as it does. If Allen expects his freshmen to progress to the point where the Quakers can compete for an Ivy League title again, he will need Nelson-Henry, Hicks and the rest of Penn’s veterans to shake their own bad habits.
If that doesn’t happen, it may be a while until the Penn freshmen experience what it feels like to win.