The Steve Donahue era begins with Penn finishing

PHILADELPHIA – Eight months since he took the post as the head of Penn basketball, Steve Donahue’s team was up 17 against a Robert Morris squad that returned four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad. Penn had only coughed up the ball five times in the first half. Almost every shot that the Quakers took was within the bounds of Donahue’s system. It was as good as Donahue could have scripted it.

Then, of course, came the shattering of the narrative. Robert Morris’ star, Rodney Pryor, started to heat up. The looks that were coming easy to Penn in the first half suddenly were contested, and before Donahue could count to 17, the Colonials had taken a one-point lead.
This was the type of game that always seemed just out of reach for Penn under former coach Jerome Allen. Donahue realized, to his credit, what the veterans on his squad had been through, and that a win – regardless of the whos, the whats and the wherefores – was the prime objective. A poor defensive rotation can be assuaged in practice numerous times between now and January, when Ivy play begins. Same goes for missed jumpers, or turnovers against a zone like Robert Morris’. But Donahue understands that his team only has 28 chances to grind out a close game over the course of this season. His team only gets 28 chances to learn what it is like to get punched in the mouth, and to be able to keep fighting afterwards.
And, again, to his credit, Penn wouldn’t take a loss. The Quakers won the type of game that they weren’t used to winning, and that bodes incredibly well for the rest of this season. A win to kick off the season, especially against a team that won a NCAA tournament game last year, sets the tone for the rest of the season. It’s a whole different mindset to be in, when players are asking ‘what are we doing to bounce back?’ and not ‘what else could go wrong?’ That’s a big shift for many of these veterans, but it’s a change that I am sure that everyone on the team, and fans of Penn, could get used to.
But as much as there is power in having strong mental toughness in high-pressure situations, at the core of that toughness is an ability to rely on principles. Donahue’s offense has clear rules, ones that players have brought into already, and the defensive principles shined through as well last night. So, unlike years past, when it came down to crunchtime, the Quakers knew the plan, and all they had to do was execute.
It wasn’t a perfect win, but it would have been silly to expect perfection in the first contest of the year. The Quakers’ talent was never in question the last few years, nor is it now. The biggest question mark was whether this team could come together and learn how to win, and in his first contest, Donahue helped his team send a resounding yes that served as a notice to the rest of the Ivy League that Penn basketball is back.

1 thought on “The Steve Donahue era begins with Penn finishing

  1. Agreed. Last night’s game was a wonderful way to start the season. For the first time in a long while, it was a pleasure to watch the team.

    The first half was so much better than anything I would have expected. A 16 point lead with very good ball movement and solid three point shooting. A low number of fouls and turnovers.

    The second half had a bit of a rough stretch, but most of that was due to the exceptional shooting from Pryor.

    Since Tony Hicks was the usual go-to guy at the end of close games, it was an interesting thing to see how the team would respond to losing the lead and figuring out how they would manage the last few minutes. Woods and DNH really rose to the occasion.

    Credit to Coach Donahue for bringing a sense of optimism and an effective system, as well as the team for its quick support of the program and unselfish play. Some extra positives to the Penn Athletic Department for the videos. The “up close and personal” interview of Jamal Lewis,the pre-game “Passion” introduction, and the school promotional advertisement all showed an increase attention to the audience.

    Hopefully, last night was just the beginning.

    P.S. – Congratulations to Coach Priore and the Penn football team for an outstanding victory against Harvard. A truly unbelievable season!

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