The Quakers learned the hard way Saturday night that playing from behind is always a dangerous game.
In its first Big 5 matchup of the season, Penn (2-7) never managed to come back from an eight-point gap set by the Wildcats (5-4) in the final seconds of the first frame, falling to Villanova, 68-55, for the tenth consecutive game in the series.
Almost seven minutes into the first half at the Palestra, the Red and Blue faced a 10-point deficit, 14-4 — the four points coming from free throws.
“Yeah, I could say we battled back from 14 to four,” coach Jerome Allen said. “But at the end of the day, as a staff, we try to prepare our guys to win basketball games.”
The shots just weren’t finding the basket, especially for junior forward Fran Dougherty, who notched just one field goal for a two-point performance in his 19 minutes of play.
“I thought we did a good job on Dougherty, who I think is a really good player too. I thought that was really key,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We have four forwards that we put on him … I think we wore him down.”
Allen added that he wasn’t sure how “in tune” Dougherty was throughout the course of the game.
“He has the right to shoot the ball when he’s open, but having said that, in a game like this, a city series, Big 5, it comes down to who controls the paint over the course of a 40-minute period and I just think they did a better job of that than us,” Allen said.
It took nearly 10 minutes for Penn to sink its first field goal, which came on a long jumper from sophomore forward Greg Louis.
The Quakers rallied back, though, and they were within two points with one minute remaining in the first half.
But with the help of some last-second fouling, the Wildcats were able to take over in the last 30 seconds, extending their lead to eight by halftime.
As the second half commenced, Penn kept up with Villanova, keeping the score differential around eight points in the first 10 minutes.
Halfway into the second frame, though, turnovers started to become a problem yet again for the Quakers, allowing the Wildcats to secure an even greater lead.
“I think it’s just a function of focus,” said junior guard Miles Cartwright, who led the team in scoring with 16 points. “I know I have to be responsible for at least five or six and I’m not too happy about that.”
Though the majority of Penn’s points came from the charity stripe in the first, the tide began to turn later in the game, as the Wildcats started getting to the line more.
“We have five or six capable guards who can put it on the floor and can score consistently every night,” Cartwright said. “It’s just the ninth game into the season. We’re not panicking. We’re definitely going to get better.”
The Wildcats outrebounded the Quakers 40-28 and were better able to spread out the scoring, with four players reaching double-digits, led by sophomore guard Achraf Yacoubou’s 13 points and freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono’s 12 points.
Any Big 5 loss stings a bit for the Red and Blue, and this defeat is no different.
“Nova is Nova to us. It doesn’t matter who’s on your team,” Cartwright said. “Jay Wright could have been out in shorts tonight and we still would have went at him.”