For a five-game span before Wednesday night’s loss at Temple, Miles Cartwright would have been wise to take advice from a perpetual sideline presence that often goes ignored.
No, not Penn coach Jerome Allen — hopefully his players have been heeding his counsel — but rather the cheerleaders and a well-known mantra:
“Be aggressive! B-E aggressive!”
For the first time since the earliest stages of the season, Cartwright was. And it almost resulted in a major upset for his squad over a Big 5 foe.
Overshadowed by Khalif Wyatt’s 26-point performance that lifted the Owls to a 76-69 victory, Cartwright would’ve worn the hero’s hat had his season-high 21-point showing led to a different result.
The junior captain himself admitted to playing with a different mindset.
“I just felt in some of our last games, I wasn’t assertive in the beginning and kind of lost a rhythm going into the second half,” Cartwright said. “So I just tried to be assertive early in the game to try and get myself going and get my teammates going.”
For the five previous contests, in which Penn went 1-4, Cartwright averaged just 9.2 points and 2.6 trips to the line per game. Although he shot a respectable 41.5 percent from the floor, that rate dropped to 16.7 percent from distance.
But a different Cartwright came to play on Wednesday.
His final stat line: 21 points, 6-for-14 shooting (42.9 percent), six rebounds, two assists and
perhaps most importantly, seven trips to the charity stripe. He sank all seven attempts.
The aggression was clear on both sides of the ball.
Following a bad turnover by Greg Louis early in the game, Cartwright hustled the length of the court and caught up to Wyatt to deny the Temple star an easy layup.
When Wyatt tried to force a pass to a teammate underneath, Jamal Lewis came away with a steal and Darien Nelson-Henry finished a fantastic feed by Cartwright with a lay-in.
Later in the half, only moments after Penn retook the lead, Cartwright stepped back with confidence and drained a longer-than-NBA-range three — just like Zack Rosen used to do — and extended the Quakers’ lead to 30-26.
But perhaps his most telling play, one that could have turned the momentum around in the Red and Blue’s favor, came with 12:54 remaining in regulation.
On an ill-advised Wyatt pass, Cartwright snagged the ball out of midair and took the rock back the other way with no intention of passing it off. Against two Temple defenders, he pursued the hoop without fear, converted a deuce and drew a foul on T.J. DiLeo.
The ensuing made free throw capped a 7-2 Penn run that put the Quakers back up seven after the Owls had cut a nine-point lead to two less than a minute earlier.
Cartwright fuels the Quakers. It’s a small sample size, but in Penn’s three wins this season, the 6-foot-3 guard has led the way in all of them — 16 points on 53.6 percent shooting (including 41.7 percent on threes), four assists and nearly six trips to the line on average.
It needs to continue into Ivy League play if the Quakers have any hope of avoiding their worst campaign since the formation of the Ancient Eight.
Fear not. There’s no way that’ll happen if Cartwright continues his charge.