The Penn men’s basketball squad went to sleep two nights ago as a turnover-prone squad that could defend with gusto, but struggled mightily to score.
But that team was nowhere to be found Tuesday night at the Palestra.
A Kafka-esque transformation had occurred, and following a 21-turnover performance just three nights before, Penn gave up the ball just 11 times — down from an average of 17.3 per game.
What’s more, the Quakers suddenly emerged as an offensive force, tallying 83 points with five players scoring in double-digits for the first time since Dec. 23, 2011. Dau Jok — of all people — led the team with 18 points.
What happened to the team that averaged 61.5 points a game and only made 40.1 percent of its field goal attempts? Then again, what happened to the squad that only gave up 69.2 points per contest?
The only comprehensible explanation is that a different team took the floor than in Penn’s previous 13 matchups, which is largely true.
It was not Miles Cartwright or Fran Dougherty who jumpstarted Penn’s rally when down 15 points. Rather, Jerome Allen’s squad of Jok, Darien Nelson-Henry, Tony Hicks, Camryn Crocker and Steve Rennard dissolved the Leopards’ double-digit lead late in the second half, giving the Quakers a chance to win.
But if Rennard’s three- point attempt goes in and defeats Lafayette, who exactly do we give the win to? Surely not to the Penn team led by Cartwright and Dougherty, nor the squad featuring long-standing starting point guard Jamal Lewis, who barely saw the floor in his just 10 minutes of floor time.
Improbable comebacks and valiant efforts aside, the reality remains that Penn basketball is having an identity crisis.
Fourteen games into the season, Jerome Allen still does not know who this team is — and more importantly, who he trusts to play when it counts. He must be commended for recognizing that the group he had on the floor — despite missing Cartwright and Lewis — had all the momentum and could take Lafayette down to the wire.
But this realization should not be coming less than a week before opening up Ivy League play on the road against Princeton.
The positive spin on Penn’s play against the Leopards is that the Quakers have even more offensive threats than previously thought, making the team more difficult to guard.
But the harsher reality is that Jok and Nelson-Henry are not likely to lead Penn in scoring again. Princeton — and every other Ivy squad — will take notice of their performances against Lafayette and prepare accordingly.
Neither Jok nor Nelson-Henry will sneak up on anyone from here on out, and that tells the story of Penn’s true challenge at this point: Who can score and defend even when the other team expects it?
We’ve seen Dougherty and Cartwright put up big performances and then struggle when teams bring a game plan to stop them.That’s what separated Zack Rosen from the rest of the Ivy League, particularly last season. Every Ancient Eight squad knew Rosen was Mr. Penn in the flesh and still could not slow him down.
Penn is still looking for a player — or a couple of players — to fill Rosen’s gargantuan shoes. And the team’s ability to succeed in that endeavor will define its identity moving forward.
Until then, it’s hard to say exactly who this Penn team is at all.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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