So Penn loses to Temple in the first Big 5 matchup of the year. Although not at all unexpected, the result was well below the 14.5-point spread that Las Vegas predicted (not to mention the 22 points that less knowledgeable pundits foresaw). Still, even though Tony Hicks fouled out with most of second half yet to play, Mike “The Moose” Auger didn’t suit up because of a fractured foot and coach Jerome Allen was forced to play his most inexperienced players for the majority of the game, I found something quite surprising — unlike the last few years, this contest was highly watchable. The Quakers didn’t dig themselves into a giant hole in the first 10 minutes. They were athletic, they hustled and they looked like there was some semblance of team basketball being played. In short, this game seemed like a step, albeit small, in the right direction.
Penn freshman forward Mike Auger was named Ivy Rookie of the Week for his 28 points and 17 rebounds combined in two losses to Rider and Lafayette this past week. Auger has been an offensive rebounding force in his first handful of collegiate games and has already developed obvious chemistry with Tony Hicks at the offensive end of the floor.
Auger-related news isn’t all good for Quaker fans as Penn gets set to play Temple at the Liacouras Center, though. Auger left Penn’s loss to Lafayette midway through the second half and according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, his status is uncertain for tonight’s Big 5 matchup with the Owls.
“I would hope that he’s physically ready to go,” Allen told the DP. “It is of the utmost importance that he spends as much time as he possibly can connected with the group on the floor. Hopefully he’s fine, but it hasn’t been determined yet.”
Penn started out the first half a step slow in its search for its first win of the season while hosting Lafayette, trailing 45-30 at halftime – a hole the Quakers wouldn’t be able to climb out of even after cutting the Leopards’ lead to 62-60 halfway through the second half.
“We didn’t trust the system,” coach Jerome Allen said. “We didn’t know the objective of what we were trying to run and all our actions weren’t credible threats. Give Lafayette some credit but there was a direct function of our focus and attention to detail.”
The Quakers allowed Lafayette let loose from beyond the arc as the Leopards canned six of 10 attempts from deep in the first half.
Several years ago, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun was asked what the single-most important ingredient is to build a winning college basketball program. His response was immediate and succinct: “Talent. You cannot win without it no matter how good a coach you are.”
Does Penn have talent? It appears so, but it is far too early judge the freshman class based on only two games. I will say that overall they look eager, athletic and, as a group, promising. As for the veterans, Tony Hicks’s ability is undeniable. However, during his tenure at Penn he has become the Carmelo Anthony of the Quakers – shoot first and ask questions later. Darien Nelson-Henry is talented as well but still looks very much like a work in progress, flashes of brilliance interspersed with long stretches of underachievement. Unfortunately, he is more often the “Big Donkey” than the mighty “Big Hyphen” who can single-handedly dominate games. The rest of the veterans – Louis, Jones, Howard and Lewis – can also play but frequently look lost in “the system.”
There will be a lot written and said about Penn’s growing pains throughout this season.
People will lament coach Jerome Allen’s ability to develop young talent, watch as freshmen like Mike Auger and Antonio Woods develop good and bad habits and yell when Sam Jones heats up from three one night and can’t knock one down the next.
But all of that won’t matter one bit if the elder statesmen of the team don’t clean up their own bad habits.
Allen admitted following Penn’s loss to Rider on Tuesday night that he wanted to get these freshmen, so vital to the development to the Quakers’ program and Allen’s job security, some winning experience as soon as possible.
The only problem is, his veterans, the players who should be carrying the team, are inhibiting the growth that the freshmen have been able to experience over the course of two games.
Had junior Darien Nelson-Henry been able to close out Delaware State in the waning minutes on Saturday night, Woods, Auger, Jones and Darnell Foreman would have experienced what it feels like to win in their first collegiate game.
But what happened on Tuesday didn’t just rob the freshmen of a winning experience. It put them in a position where it was hard for them to develop.
It wasn’t deja vu until it was.
For a while, it was another vision entirely, this 2014-15 Penn basketball team.
Who was this Darnell Foreman with the uncanny floor vision? This Sam Jones with the spot-up sharpshooting? This hustle and offensive rebounding tenacity across the board?
Penn trailed 14-5 early but got it together to build a seven-point lead with eight minutes to play at home against Delaware State, one of the worst teams in Division I last season.
And that’s when the deja vu set in. The rebounds started drying up. Jones’s shots started rimming out, giving him a 3-for-11 night from the field. Foreman continued controlling the point but not the ball as Tony Hicks took over, settling for and missing perimeter shot after perimeter shot as the second half wore on. Then Hicks airballed a three-pointer in the final minute, missing what would have been a game-winning shot as time expired and failing to successfully take the game into his own hands in overtime.
It became the Tony Hicks show, and it didn’t work. Sure, Hicks’s stat line was fantastic – 31 points, five three-pointers, five rebounds and three assists. Sure, this game could have easily went either way.
But it didn’t. It slipped away once again, this time to a no-name visitor that lost more games last season than even Penn.
PHILADELPHIA – Penn had been in this situation before. Tied game. A few seconds left on the clock. Coach Jerome Allen with a chance to draw up a play to give the Quakers the victory. And over the last two seasons, the Quakers had struggled to come through in the clutch.
Junior Tony Hicks, the Quakers’ go-to scorer, ended up with the ball in his hands as the clock neared zero, and just like recent years, he couldn’t seal the deal. His bank shot rimmed out as the clock struck zero.
And in overtime, just like recent years, Penn allowed a lesser opponent to sneak by for a victory. Delaware State defeated Penn, 77-75, after the Quakers couldn’t shut the door late in the second half.
With numerous opportunities to finish the Hornets off, Hicks instead faded down the stretch, his fellow classmate Darien Nelson-Henry provided no help, and the failures of old crept out of the Palestra walls.
“It was just a play that didn’t go down,” Hicks said of his shot at winning the contest in regulation.
In his first post for Ivy Hoops Online, former Daily Pennsylvanian Sports Editor John Phillips weighs in on what this season means for the future of Jerome Allen and Penn basketball.
It is Penn coach Jerome Allen’s favorite mantra: The next game is the most important, because it’s the next time we play.
For the four-plus seasons Allen has served as Penn’s coach, however, that has rarely been true. There have been plenty of meaningless games played under Allen’s eye for the Red and Blue. He carries a 56-85 record into this season, so the next games on the schedule haven’t mattered much where winning is concerned.
But even when the team was going a combined 17-42 over the last two seasons and some were calling for Allen to be fired depending on his team’s performance during a stretch of bad games, Allen’s mantra proved to be false as well. Due to a long list of reasons, or what some would consider excuses, Allen’s struggles have been given a free pass. After superstar Zack Rosen left the team, Penn’s struggles were framed as natural following the departure of such a strong presence. Then, last year, after Allen’s team showed a stark lack of discipline throughout the season, Allen made a culture change in the locker room that led to Julian Harrell and Henry Brooks, two of the most talented players on Penn’s roster, leaving the team. So despite the struggles that Penn faced on the court in 2013-14, the Quakers were still granted a reprieve, supporting the argument that each “next game” Allen’s squad faced last season was in no way the most important.
The Daily Pennsylvanian’s annual Penn Basketball Supplement is out today, and I encourage you to check it out, not because I’m a DP alum but because it’s a very thorough, insightful supplement. In fact, there are some genuine nuggets in the DP’s supplement, including Tony Hicks’s reasoning for changing his jersey number from ‘1’ to ’11’ this season – “It was kind of egotistical, and I just wanted to get away from that” – and the team’s reaction to being projected to finish seventh in the Ivy League – “We break huddles; we say: ‘Seven.’ We commit bad plays during practice on offense or defense; sometimes coaches will say ‘Seven.’”
So optimism abounds for Penn basketball in spite of last season’s 8-20 finish, but how’s the team looking up close and personal right now? I reached out to my successor as Daily Pennsylvanian senior sports editor, Steven Tydings, for an inside look at the Quakers.
Nothing lasts forever. Of what was once a powerful 500-year-old Republic, all that remains now of the Roman Empire are some weathered boulders scattered across Italy in the form of decaying monuments. And what has become of Britain’s Empire that once stretched to every continent on the planet? It has been reduced to a token naval force and an army of T-shirted, potbellied, Guinness-fueled, vomiting soccer hooligans who now invade neighboring lands in the name of “Man U” instead of Her Majesty the Queen.
Therefore it should not be a shock to Quaker fans that the era of Quaker hoops dominance is now effectively over. Having ruled admirably over the Ivy League for almost 30 years (along with Princeton—an effete and supercilious France to our noble and righteous England), the torch has now been passed to upstart Harvard. (The powerful but crass and cultureless “America” if you will in my little imperial scenario.) What was for years our birthright (at least we thought it was) is now handily out of reach for the foreseeable future. Since our last championship in 2007, The League has been effectively turned upside down with Harvard, Columbia, Yale and, most likely, Brown at the top. Twenty years ago, no one could ever have imagined this anymore than they could a bunch of ill-equipped colonists defeating the most powerful Domain in the history of civilization.