It’s practically a truism in sports: When a team gets blown out, the players can be faulted for the loss. But when a squad loses a close game, blame falls on the coach.
And the Quakers’ loss to Yale has to fall squarely on the shoulders of Penn coach Jerome Allen, as the Red and Blue have narrowly fallen in consecutive games to mediocre Ivy League teams. It’s unclear precisely what Allen’s decisions are down the stretch, but the bottom line is that they are not getting results.
The nine-point loss to the Bulldogs puts Penn at a cringe-inducing 17 losses on the season, including eight defeats by five points or less. To say the Quakers can’t close when it counts is a vast understatement.
Perhaps this would be acceptable at another basketball program, but as the pre-game video reminds everyone in the Palestra, the Quakers have 25 Ivy League championships to their name. Penn is the unquestionable dynasty of Ancient Eight basketball, and Allen knows this better than most. After all, he led Penn to three titles during his own playing days.
The Bulldogs are hardly the cream of the Ancient Eight crop, but they won Friday night, largely due to crucial decisions on the part of coach James Jones and his staff. Yale’s leading scorer Austin Morgan came out flat in the first half, shooting 0-for-6 from the field in the opening frame. Jones decided to give Morgan a short leash and took the senior guard out of the game less than three minutes into the second half.
After nearly eight minutes on the bench, Morgan reentered the game with fresh legs and a few minutes later hit Yale’s most important shot of the contest: a dagger three-pointer with 1:09 remaining. To top it off, Morgan knocked down four free throws in the final minute to stifle any chances of a Penn comeback.
Jones was not at all surprised by Morgan’s turnaround at the end of the game.
“He’s one of the best free throw shooters in the country, so I expect him to make all of those free throws,” he said.
Jones knew exactly how his team won. He knew that his team doesn’t shoot the ball well, which makes offensive rebounding crucial to its success. Indeed, without 21 offensive boards, Yale would not have won this game, especially as it shot just 33.9 percent from the field.
Jones knew his personnel inside and out and made specific choices that led to his team’s victory. If Allen is making similarly deft strategic maneuvers, then he’s very quiet about them.
Give Allen credit where it’s due: He brushes off any of the obvious excuses to explain Penn’s poor performance. He hasn’t put this season on Fran Dougherty’s prolonged absence nor his unusually young roster.
“To be honest with you, we don’t have any freshmen anymore. We’re 20 games into the season,” Allen said. “Everybody’s had opportunities to play, and everybody’s played a significant amount of minutes and I just think we should be at another level.”
But Allen’s explanations of why Penn’s not at “another level” are consistently vague and unsatisfying. Following the loss to Yale, Allen cited the team’s lack of resilience on the court when things go sour and a propensity to “play … to lose.”
What Allen leaves out of the equation is that the head coach is undoubtedly the single most important figure on a team when it comes to setting the squad’s tone and energy.
If the Quakers are not on the level they need to be, it’s Allen’s job to take them there.
KENNY KASPER is a sophomore philosophy major from Santa Rosa, Calif., and is a former associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.
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