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.