La Salle came to the Palestra ready to play some high intensity Big Five basketball—and Penn was the victim.
Although the Quakers cut their opponent’s lead down to five after some clutch offensive rebounds late in the second half, it was too little and too late for the Red and Blue. Penn ultimately suffered a 68-57 Big 5 loss to La Salle last night.
“Their posture, their demeanor, you could look in their eyes and realize it was a city basketball game,” coach Jerome Allen said of the Explorers. “It was a Big 5 game and our guys didn’t come out with that sense of urgency.”
After the Explorers (13-4) jumped out to a 9-0 start, Penn senior co-captain Zack Rosen, who was honored before tipoff for surpassing his coach’s all-time assist record with 506, finally put the Quakers (7-9) on the board five minutes into the first half.
But Penn’s offensive struggles lasted throughout the game, as the Explorers focused on stopping both Rosen and senior guard Tyler Bernardini. Combined, the pair totaled just 20 points— compared to their combined season average of 34.6 —and went 6-for-23 in field goal shooting.
“[Rosen and Bernardini] were the focal point of our defensive strategy all week,” said La Salle’s Tyreek Duren, who netted a game-high 21 points. “We just come into these games just trying to hold their top scorers under their average and when we do that we have great success and we hold their teams under 40 field goal percentage.”
Duren led the Explorers with six assists and also helped his squad defensively with a game-high four steals.
“Tonight, I just thought Duren dominated the game,” Allen said.
Duren wasn’t the only La Salle player to break the Penn defense. Earl Pettis and Sam Mills were largely undisturbed in the paint, and scored 18 and 12 points respectively.
“I can look at our inability to impose our will and execute,” Allen said. “And I thought we played horrible in terms of valuing the basketball and being tough defensively, staying in front of guys.”
Despite the fact that the Explorers were able to stifle Penn’s starting five on both ends of the court, the Quakers’ bench proved to be a positive. Fran Dougherty was Penn’s leading scorer, adding a career-high 14 points to the Quakers’ cause.
But even Dougherty’s career night and the Quakers’ improved late-game play wasn’t enough for the win.
With La Salle leading 61-55 and 1:51 remaining, Dougherty was called for a foul after attempting to tip in a Rosen three pointer — a play that could have brought the Quakers within three.
“It was important we made our run towards the end there,” Dougherty said. “It put us in a good position and if we did a couple things different, the outcome could have been different.”
But because Rosen was taken off his game, scoring only 8 points, Allen once again reiterated the importance of a full team effort.
“When you got one guy that can make plays for himself or for other people, it’s tough to win and we need more guys to step up and make plays outside of Zack and it’s just not happening,” he said. “I don’t think you can beat too many teams at this level with just one guy making plays.”