After a shoddy five-game stretch that included four losses, the Penn basketball team got its mojo back at the Palestra Wednesday night.
The Quakers’ 69-60 win over Delaware (3-4) showcased the brand of basketball coach Jerome Allen hopes his team can consistently play.
That brand starts on the defensive end of the floor, where Penn (5-5) held the second-leading scorer in the nation, Delaware guard Devon Saddler, to just six points — 19 below his season average — on 2-for-8 shooting.
“It was just a great example of team box outs, team defense, team everything,” senior forward Rob Belcore said.
The swarming defense frustrated Saddler and eventually forced him to the bench with 13:19 left, Delaware coach Monté Ross’s way of teaching his young star a lesson. The relentless effort also keyed a 17-2 run that broke the game open early in the second half, turning the Blue Hens’ 27-26 lead into a 29-43 deficit. Belcore called it “a stretch where we played Penn basketball.”
“We were all over the place on defense,” he explained. “As a team, they were shook.”
Belcore in particular shined during the decisive stretch, racing for seven of his 11 points over six minutes in which Delaware didn’t record a field goal. Fellow senior Tyler Bernardini came through with a huge three-pointer and an and-1 putback layup as part of his 16 points.
As usual, point guard Zack Rosen spearheaded the effort on both ends of the floor.
The captain delivered a ho-hum 29 points — which vaulted him past Saddler among the nation’s top scorers — to go along with eight dimes. Most incredible about the performance was that the sharpshooter couldn’t buy a bucket from outside. With his shot off (1-for-7 from three), Rosen doggedly attacked the basket and finished a flawless 12-for-12 from the line.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find any young man throughout the country that’s giving what he’s giving to us,” Allen said.
Rosen has reiterated all season that he’ll do whatever his team needs to win, so asserting himself was imperative Wednesday in the absence of injured backcourt partner Miles Cartwright. Cartwright suffered a mild concussion during what Allen called a “freak accident at practice,” but the sophomore said he’ll be back for Saturday’s game at UCLA.
With minutes available, Allen may have found himself a new rotation player in sophomore Steve Rennard, who the coach said “exhausted himself” on defense. The 6-foot-2 guard out of Hazlet, N.J., played a vital role in shutting down Saddler and scored six points, two more than he tallied all of last year.
“We don’t win the basketball game tonight if not for Steve Rennard,” Allen said. “We didn’t know Miles was gonna be out, so for him to just respond when his number was called, that’s the sign of a good team.”
And the Quakers found the formula that will allow them to win more games going forward even when they shoot 37 percent from the floor. The effort showed on the boards, where Penn outrebounded (37-34) a team with “two beasts” at forward, as Belcore called double-double machine Jamelle Higgins and 245-pound bull Josh Brinkley.
“We showed ourselves what we’re capable of,” Belcore said.