PHILADELPHIA – Early in the second half, Penn basketball had yet to hit its stride against Central Connecticut State, tied at 36. Where was the three-point barrage that had just two days earlier taken Robert Morris by storm? Was this sluggish offense reality setting in?
But then Sam Jones hit a three. And then another. AND THEN ANOTHER.
By the time all was said and done, Jones jumpstarted another Penn victory with 23 points on the afternoon, leading the Red and Blue to their first 2-0 start since Fran Dunphy’s final year as head coach in 2005-06.
Two games into the year, there is one thing absolutely clear about this iteration of the Quakers: They’ve bought in fully to Steve Donahue’s system, drawing fouls almost at will against an inferior Central Connecticut State squad while shooting nearly nothing but three-pointers and shots in the paint. To illustrate that point, senior center Darien Nelson-Henry attempted his first career three-pointer and sophomore Mike Auger made his first collegiate shot from long range.
Yet it was Jones that set the tone, both this afternoon and in the Friday victory over Robert Morris. Last season, the sophomore displayed his three-point touch, particularly at Columbia last February. But it is now clear that Jones is a snug fit for the Donahue offense.
It’s not like the Blue Devils had no idea Jones could shoot. From the opening tip, CCSU’s defenders would yell, “Shooter!” whenever he touched the ball. However, regardless of whether the Blue Devils threw a zone or stayed in the man-to-man, Jones got his in the second half, going 3-for-4 from deep after the half.
To top it all off, the sophomore made more free throws (eight) than he even attempted last year (seven). He credited it to new NCAA rules that leads to calls whenever a defender places their hands on you, but it also displays the attention that opposing teams are giving Jones after his early outburst.
There were plenty of other positives for the Quakers beyond the sophomore sharpshooter. Nelson-Henry, outside of his missed three-pointer, put together a double-double while displaying his ability to pass out of the post. Freshman Jake Silpe was seen all over the stat sheet, overcoming some early misses from three-point range to show the flashes of brilliance many expected from him.
Two games into the year, this squad has exceeded expectations. Where the Quakers go from here will have a lot to do with their strong three-point shooting and, in particular, one well utilized sophomore forward.
Other news and notes:
- Down 36-34 early in the second half, Donahue went to a lineup of Darnell Foreman, Antonio Woods, Matt Howard, Jones and Nelson-Henry. That lineup, in over three minutes together, erased the deficit and gave Penn a 14-point lead.
- Freshman forward Max Rothschild put together a solid performance with four points and five rebounds. However, he missed his first four free throw attempts and received a sarcastic cheer as he hit his last two of the evening, leading to a few laughs from the bench.
- Penn will face Delaware State on Wednesday, looking to go 3-0 on the year. The Quakers have not started 3-0 since the 1981-82 season under coach Bob Weinhauer.
- The Quakers have attempted 53 three-point shots this year. They are on pace for 742 attempts, which would shatter their previous record of 668.