ITHACA, N.Y. — Starting and finishing have not been synonymous for Penn men’s basketball this season.
But the Red and Blue were able to jump to a lead early in the second half at Newman Arena that would set the tone for the rest of the game, clinching the game at Cornell, 79-71.
“We’ve been trying to play like that all year,” junior captain Miles Cartwright said. “We were really sharing the ball really well. We felt like we had a good week of practice and without Fran and Steve, we really have to share the ball. When the ball’s moving the way it was tonight, we’re going to have success.”
The win, uncharacteristic for the Quakers this season, was led by a 29-point performance from freshman guard Tony Hicks, who notched 15 points early in the first half.
“The coaching staff always tell me, including teammates, for me to be aggressive, but shots were falling,” Hicks said. “I got into a groove early and then the basket just gets wide open after you make a couple shots.”
Additionally, the Quakers saw well-rounded play from Cartwright, who notched 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds as well as the team’s only two steals.
After allowing the Big Red to reach 43 points in the first half — largely due to points given up in transition — the Quakers were able to hold Cornell to just 28 in second frame.
“We gave up almost 20 points in transition defense and I thought that was really the difference, whether connected to our nine turnovers or our lack of focus in not having the right attention to detail to get back in transition,” coach Jerome Allen said. “In the second half, we tried to be a little more conscious of that.”
Much of this shift from late in the first half was due to more complete performances by those on the floor.
“Communication was probably the best it was all year, we were really talking,” Cartwright said. “Even when we were switching defenses, going from man to zone, I thought our communication was really at a high level, so if we can keep it like that, I think we can defend anybody.”
This was not a case of deja vu for Penn, which lost by two points to the Big Red at the last second earlier this month at the Palestra.
But the win didn’t come without its challenges. The Big Red consistently answered Penn’s runs, taking a four-point lead at the end of the first half after Penn had jumped ahead 12 points early on.
But as the second frame got rolling, Hicks was back, racking up another 14 points as Cartwright continued feeding and distributing the ball. Penn was also able to keep the scoring to a minimum for Cornell senior forward Errick Peck, who scored only three points the whole game.
Though Cornell sophomore forward Shonn Miller and freshman guard Nolan Cressler challenged Penn throughout the game, notching 15 and 22 points respectively, the Quakers were able to maintain their lead throughout the second frame, as the clock ticked down and roars erupted from the Penn bench.
Despite the Quakers’ successful night shooting from the field, Allen attributed the win to the team’s defensive effort.
“If we can hold teams to low field-goal percentage shooting, whether we make shots or miss shots [Saturday] night, we’ll still have a chance to win,” Allen said.
“This is a team that likes to get up and down. Columbia is like the same team,” Hicks said. “They’ve got shooters, so just talking to each other and locating the shooters, I feel like if we can carry that over to [Saturday], we should get another ‘W.’”