Penn falls to Navy despite a comeback with a twist

PHILDADELPHIA – For the first time all season, Penn basketball has lost consecutive games.

The Red and Blue were thrown off from the opening tip by Navy, a squad which won its seventh consecutive game after an 0-2 start. The Quakers (4-3) got off to a slow start before staging a late comeback, only to be undone by a layup from Navy sophomore Shawn Anderson and some missed free throws by sophomore guard Antonio Woods in the final minute.

I’ll get to the comeback in a second, but the more notable part of this game was the beginning. This is the fourth straight game that Penn trailed at the half and the end of the first half exposed some weaknesses, particularly with the Quakers’ depth.

A turning point came when both Woods and senior center Darien Nelson-Henry each picked up two fouls, all within a two-minute span. The duo account for a lot of Penn’s offense, and it showed in their absence (they each subbed in for a few possessions later in the half, but were limited).

“We played La Salle and [leading scorer Jordan] Price got two fouls early, so we were a benefactor of that,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Any time you lose your two leading scorers like that, it’ll definitely hurt you.”

Quite simply, the Quakers don’t have anyone who can *create* offense quite like those two. Sophomore forward Sam Jones can shoot the lights out (12 points and three more three-pointers vs. Navy), but he cannot create his own shot. Freshman point guard Jake Silpe shows flashes of brilliance yet his growing pains are noticeable, particularly his three turnovers on the evening. Even junior Matt Howard, who puts up more than 10 points per game, struggled to find his shot at times.

Without someone who can dribble past defenders and move the ball quite like Woods or draw attention, create space and pass out of the post like DNH, the Quakers looked lost. All of that led to 11 turnovers and just 25 points at halftime. How Penn creates offense with at least one of those guys off the floor (it’s not like they’re each going to play 40 a night in Ivy season) will make a major difference, and is an area of needed improvement.

The comeback happened like you would expect. A few threes from Jones (#SamJonesHeatCheck is real), some strong drives from Woods, and boom, the game was tied. That glosses over a key assist from Nelson-Henry to Woods, who drained a standstill three to cut a nine-point deficit by a third, and Nelson-Henry’s four consecutive free throws in the last two minutes to even the score.

However, there was a twist to the comeback: Almost the entirety of the Quakers’ march from down 13 points came with sophomore Dan Dwyer in the game. Dwyer logged 27 minutes (tied for third-most on the team) after just 10 minutes in the previous six games, having not played in three of the past four contests.

Dwyer provided needed energy off the bench, cutting the basket for two layups off assists from Jones and positioning himself well inside to make an easy shot off a Silpe pass. Furthermore, he impressed his coach with his defensive performance, switching offense-defense with Jones in the final minutes.

“He’s a very good positional defender,” Donahue said. “He’s got good length and he moves well. I thought in the second half, he really helped us guard. I’m really excited about where he’s going.”

What was perhaps most surprising about Dwyer’s 27 minutes was that it came at the expense of fellow sophomore forward Mike Auger, who received his first DNP of the season. After averaging 19.1 minutes per game, Auger lost out to Dwyer and freshman Max Rothschild for minutes off the bench at the four/five position. Donahue said after the game those three were close in practice and Dwyer earned it with his strong work recently.

“I thought he had a great fall, leading up the Robert Morris game, and almost fighting Mike and Max for first big man off the bench. I decided to go Max and Mike and they both did a great job that weekend. It’s hard to get a fifth guy in there because you have Matt Howard and obviously Darien.”

That battle for minutes in the frontcourt is a must to monitor moving forward.

Other news and notes:

  • Navy had seven offensive rebounds in the first half compared to just 10 defensive rebounds by Penn. Donahue said that it was a focal point in what he said at halftime, leading to just two offensive rebounds by the Midshipmen the rest of the way. The Quakers outrebounded Navy overall, 29-28.
  • Nelson-Henry’s streak of consecutive games with double-figure scoring to begin the year was snapped at six as he scored eight points. He was 1-for-2 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free throw line, where he is shooting 83.9 percent on the year. He was a 62.7 percent shooter from the line going into this season.
  • Navy scored 22 points off 18 Penn turnovers. The Quakers scored just two off nine Midshipmen turnovers. Navy also had a 12-2 advantage in second chance points.
  • Woods missed free throws at the end of the game brought him to just 11-for-25 on the year from the line. He shot 68.2 percent last year compared to that 44 percent thus far.
  • Navy ranks 97th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, and losing Nelson-Henry and Woods to foul trouble early held Penn back in attacking the Midshipmen’s shifting defense.
  • Lastly, Penn is on pace to tie its record for three-point attempts in a season with 668. However, they are shooting just 28.7 percent from deep on the year.

5 thoughts on “Penn falls to Navy despite a comeback with a twist

  1. Growing pains. Young team, old habits, lineup tinkering: there will be more games like this unfortunately.

    The comeback is the most important takeaway from this game. Last year, the team probably would have just taken the beating. Although they need a few more wins to gain confidence, George Mason and Temple will be tough. Still, I don’t rule them out. Anything can happen in a Big 5 game. Most importantly, Donahue, regardless of the results, appears to have the pulse of his team.

    Keep on moving forward.

  2. The AQ is certainly correct that there will be many more games like this.

    When DNH picked up his first foul, which certainly was questionable, PSN Broadcaster Vince Curran immediately noted that those were the type of calls that can easily change the outcome of a game since he probably would pick up a quick second and have to sit out for the rest of the half. Sure enough, DNH got called for his second one a minute later and sat for the last 7+ minutes. While it may not have cost Penn the game, it certainly was important that the primary offensive player and rebounder had to sit for an extended period of time.

    Woods seems to be putting himself in the role of Tony Hicks late in these last two games. With the team behind by significant amounts, a lack of offensive options and time running out, it seems like he feels that someone has to take charge. Against Lafayette, he did it during the last minute or so, and yesterday started doing it with about 8 minutes to go. One has to applaud his confidence and desire to lead in these situations, even if they ended up just short of victories. Hopefully, the team can have more of these players who want to step-up at crunch time.

    Matt Howard’s role remains a mystery to me. He has a lot of talent, but continues to disappear for extended periods of time. Last night, he had the first 5 points for Penn in the first 3+ minutes and then did not score until his alley-oop dunk with just over 2 minutes to go in the game. He only took one other shot in the second half.

    I wonder if Howard is just not a great fit for an offensive plan that is geared for the three-pointer. Where Woods starts off weak from the outside, he keeps shooting. When Howard is not hitting shots early, he seems to be taken out of the offense, either by the coach(es) or by himself. There were times last year, especially the Temple game that pre-Coach Donahue broadcast, where Howard did a great job driving to the basket and taking charge. However, those times were rare during the Allen-era and may not be a focus in the Donahue-era.

    Also, what is going on with Mike Auger. For those following the team, it is hard to think that there are any other players out-hustling Auger during practice or games. While Rothschild and Dwyer are doing a good job, neither of them bring Auger’s skill set to the team. In a game like last night, with DNH in foul trouble and getting outrebounded early, the team needs Auger in there to battle.

    I’m curious what the other Penn-centric IHO people think about these things….

  3. @AQ, I think the comeback and early issues are both important in their own right. I agree that the comeback likely doesn’t happen last season and the postgame would have been about the team not executing, not staying consistent. The comeback shows the strengths of this team, both in players (Woods, DNH, Jones, Howard) but also in the system that is the players are adjusting to and worked well in during the second half.

    That being said, the first half issues are a cause for concern if you aren’t comparing this team just to last year’s team (which is a fair point of comparison and one that makes you very confident about the future of the program). Simply put, the team showed it may be too reliant on a few pieces right now and that future games may be a struggle as the team fully embraces this system. It’s pretty clear in games like this that the roster is very raw (guys like Silpe, Dwyer, Rothschild, etc.). I also want to see what it looks like in a few years when Donahue has a roster of his recruits playing his system, something which this team simply is not.

    Lastly, Auger’s role is something definitely worth monitoring but I can’t quite say what to expect. When Dwyer got opportunities to start late last season, he was doing so alongside Auger, albeit in a different offensive system. I don’t know if Dylan Jones can crack this rotation, both since it’s clear he is behind at least five people, if not also Colin McManus, but also since he struggled so heavily last season in limited minutes.

    • good analysis. I think everything you said fits under the title of growing pains (raw, rotational shifts etc.) you just said it better than i did. i think the most important thing you said is that they have limited talent (at the moment). The lowerclassmen are the future of this team and they simply are not getting it done (yet).

      Good job,

      The AQ

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