Sometimes, it’s all in the timing.
After missing eight games due to mononucleosis, junior forward Fran Dougherty is expected to play in Penn’s Ivy home opener Friday night against Columbia.
The Quakers have lost seven of eight games in his absence, but of course, they also lost eight of 10 with him in the lineup. In those 10 contests, Dougherty led the team with 15.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
So what does Doc’s return really mean for the Quakers heading into their Ivy slate?
The answer to that question is another question: What did his absence mean to his team?
It meant increased production for freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry, who has averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while Doc was away.
It meant a more clearly defined offensive role for sophomore forward Henry Brooks, whose scoring totals in the second half of the season have been twice what they were in the earlier portion of the year.
Additionally, Doc’s absence also freed up enough offensive responsibility to reveal freshman guard Tony Hicks’ increasing maturity as a playmaker.
Even though both of Hicks’ 14- and 16-point performances at La Salle and Princeton, respectively, still came off the bench, they also came within the flow of an offense not looking to feed the ball down low to Dougherty.
“I think our guards are trying to be more assertive, trying to punch gaps instead of just looking in the post sometimes, penetrating gaps and kicking,” Hicks said earlier this month about how Penn’s offensive approach has changed without Dougherty.
So the emergence of Nelson-Henry, Brooks and Hicks as posting and slashing weapons means Dougherty doesn’t exactly have to be hailed as the savior upon his return.
In fact, he’s coming back to a team that got a little more aggressive while still not changing all that much in his absence.
“It’s not really different [without him],” junior guard Miles Cartwright said earlier this month. “When Fran comes back, we’re just going to be running the same plays we’ve been running and we haven’t really been running anything differently since we lost him. We just really rely on ball and body movement, a lot of motion offense and trying to get everybody involved.”
Dougherty, then, is just the biggest piece of a puzzle that hasn’t fit quite right for a long time. At least his consistent scoring, rebounding and sound defensive principles will make that puzzle fit a little more snug from here on out.
MIKE TONY is a junior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa., and is senior sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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