Prior to the start of conference play, Penn coach Steve Donahue sat for an appearance on Penn Basketball Weekly. In the Penn-Princeton preview, the coach emphasized the main difference between the two teams in last year’s close contests was the fact that Princeton competed better. The Tigers made the necessary plays late, when the game was on the line. He felt that the Quakers had improved on that end, but Saturday’s result shows that Penn is just not at the Tigers’ level at this time.
After incredibly erasing a 21-point second-half deficit, the Quakers found themselves tied with the Tigers at 44 with seven minutes remaining. Penn was then outscored 17-8 the rest of the way. Over that period, the Quakers went 0-for-2 from two, 1-for-1 from three, and 3-for-5 from the charity stripe, while committing six fouls and four turnovers. The more experienced Tigers, however, went 3-for-5 from two, 1-for-2 from three, and 8-for-9 from the free-throw line, while only giving up one foul and one turnover.
Penn’s goals for the game were efficiency and discipline. Defensively, the team was great around the perimeter throughout, limiting the Tigers to 3-f0r-19 from three. In the first half, they had trouble defending around the rim, something that was stressed by the coach in his pregame interview. They got better with that in the second stanza. Unfortunately, the effort reverted to first-half form in the last several minutes of the game.
The Quakers turned the ball over nine times in the first half, which greatly contributed to the Tigers’ 17-point halftime lead. As Penn got back into the game, it committed only two turnovers in the first 13-plus minutes of the second half. Then, as noted earlier, they committed four more turnovers in the next six-plus minutes as the game slipped away.
With regards to the three-pointers, Penn’s overall 44 percent and hitting seven of its last eight were very good. The 0-for-8 effort to start the game was not so good. Additionally, the poor free-throw shooting, 11-for-20, necessitated more than the seven total treys on the evening.
The Quakers defense has been its strong suit all through its non-conference schedule. They are holding teams to 40.7 percent field-goal percentage, which is second in the Ivy League and 61st in the country. The team’s opponents are shooting two pointers at 44.7 percent, which is 57th in the nation. With three-pointers, Penn’s adversaries are shooting 33.6 percent, fourth in the conference and 136th overall, and making 6.8 treys a game, 118th in the land. The defensive effort continued at the start of conference play on the road against Princeton, which entered the game with a 45 percent field-goal percentage and a 39 percent three-point shooting percentage. By the end of the contest, the Tigers shot 34.7 percent overall and 15.8 percent from three.
The offense, which has been good in some categories, has been less successful than the defense.
Overall, Penn is shooting 43.6 percent from the field, which is seventh in the conference and top 200 nationally. The team is hitting threes at 35.2 percent, sixth-best in the Ivies and 165th in the country. The Red and Blue are making 8.6 threes a game, which is third-best in the conference and 75th overall. The Quakers are scoring 50 percent from two, which is third-best in the league and 133rd in the nation. The numbers with free throws are not as positive, since Penn is getting to the line 14.7 times a game and making 9.3 a game, which are 341st and 347th in the nation, respectively. Its 63.6 percent free-throw shooting is last in the Ivy League and 317th nationally. With those charity stripe numbers, the Quakers are going to have to improve their field-goal shooting to win ballgames.
Despite Saturday’s difficulties, A.J. Brodeur and Matt Howard have helped Penn’s two point percentage by shooting 52.4 and 59.1 percent, respectively. Stopping the revolving door at point guard and giving the job to Darnell Foreman should help this metric, since he is the team’s most fearless player and is getting two-pointers at 44.6 percent. With regards to threes, Caleb Wood, Sam Jones and Jackson Donahue have all had struggles from beyond the arc this season. Fortunately, first-year shooting guard Ryan Betley has recently come off the disabled list to bring energy and accuracy to the team’s three point production. While his sample size is small, 6-for-9 in three games, he appears to have earned a shot at starting, gaining meaningful minutes and attempting to improve the team’s three-point shooting. Donahue, although shooting threes at 31.3 percent for the season and 27.7 percent against Top 150 opponents, is the most capable shooting guard to come off the bench, since he is hitting 36.3 percent against Bottom 200 teams and seems the most likely to get on a hot streak.
In the media preseason poll, Penn was picked a distant fourth place, an also-ran participant for the first Ivy League Tournament. Through the first two months of the season, however, the Quakers have shown that they have the talent and the ability to not only earn a spot at the Palestra this March, but a legitimate chance at the league’s automatic bid. Now that the team has had its first experience with conference play, it needs to lock down its lineup, play consistently for 40 minutes and find ways to compete, offensively and defensively, late in games to comfortably place itself into the upper division of the Ancient Eight.