It was all going so well for Penn.
After getting pummeled at the Palestra by a Princeton squad that had started the season 1-7 six days earlier, Penn was making the adjustments it needed in the Jadwin Gym rematch.
Penn made its first two threes after going just 3-for-23 from deep in the last meeting. Princeton had dominated inside at the other end of the floor six days prior, but Jarrod Simmons was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time ever to help man Penn’s frontcourt, scoring the game’s opening bucket and blocking Penn-killer Richmond Aririguzoh in the paint early.
8-0 Penn. 10-2 Penn. The team that beat Alabama and Providence and went toe to toe with Arizona and Villanova finally feasting on a team that had started the season 1-7.
Then Ryan Schwieger hit a three. And another. The bubble burst. Less than seven minutes later, Princeton took the lead for good and held on late to deal Penn another defeat, 63-58, its 12th loss in 14 tries against its archrival.
Well, it’s not complicated. Princeton (6-8, 2-0), despite its overall record, has no shortage of great players. Jaelin Llewellyn can score from anywhere and has one of the most explosive drives in the Ivy League. Richmond Aririguzoh can have a huge impact even when he’s held contained offensively as he was by a strong defensive effort by AJ Brodeur and double-team attention Friday evening, as evidenced by his four assists and 16 rebounds, including three big boards (two offensive) in the final 1:50.
And Ryan Schwieger’s stat lines against Penn (7-6, 0-2) this week speak for themselves: 9-for-14 from two-point range at the Palestra, 4-for-6 from three-point range at Jadwin. He can score from anywhere.
That’s just it, though. Penn’s defense got carved up two different ways by Princeton.
Saturday, Princeton pounded Penn inside, led by Schwieger, giving up 40 points in layups and 27 field goals inside the three-point line.
Friday, Penn took away the inside and Princeton made hay from deep instead, shooting more than twice as many threes, 26, as it did at the Palestra and making 11, a 42.3% clip that dwarfed Penn’s 23.8% long-range showing.
Penn won the Ivy League championship in 2018 in part because its perimeter defense was outstanding. The Red & Blue’s three-point percentage allowed was second-lowest in the nation that year, and they kept teams from crashing the offensive boards, ranking 12th nationally in offensive rebound percentage allowed.
This season, Penn’s three-point percentage allowed is just 320th-best nationally and worst among Ivies, not a good weakness in the analytically savvy, three-happy Ivy League.
Penn’s got too much talent and high-level coaching to miss out on the Ivy League Tournament. Even with a fourth 0-2 start to Ivy play in five seasons under Steve Donahue, that’s not likely to happen. But Penn won’t succeed once it gets there unless its defense can dictate to formidable Ivy foes rather than the other way around.