Penn basketball has one more chance.
One more chance to get a win, any win, as nonconference play comes to a close.
One more chance to show that its upset win over Princeton was no fluke.
Can it make the most of it?
That question will be answered Saturday when the Quakers (3-11) host NJIT (8-12) at the Palestra, desperate to eliminate the bad memories of last weekend’s disappointing 85-68 loss to Saint Joseph’s.
The Hawks completely embarrassed the Red and Blue in all aspects of the game, hitting 13 first-half three-pointers while opening up a 34-point halftime lead.
“There wasn’t too many positive things we could take from that experience, just in terms of our ability to impose our will on another team,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “If you’re looking for small victories, you try to highlight the things that we control when we control them, but there wasn’t too many times when we could do that.”
Penn was done in by its usual set of bugaboos against the Hawks on Saturday: offensive inefficiency and poor rebounding.
The Quakers shot a woeful 29 percent from the field in their dreadful first half showing and were vastly outrebounded by St. Joe’s, 36-25.
But Saturday was not completely without positives for the Red and Blue to look back on. They committed a season-low 10 turnovers and received solid bench play in the second half, spearheaded by freshman Dylan Jones’ 10-point effort on 4-for-7 shooting from the field.
“I thought they did a tremendous job of competing and playing hard and sharing the ball and attacking the basket,” Allen said of his bench. “I was happy for them, the way they finished the game.”
Against NJIT, though, Allen would likely prefer not to have to resort to his bench to slow down the Highlanders’ attack.
The lone independent program in Division I, NJIT has made tremendous strides under coach Jim Engles, but the team has struggled recently, having lost eight of its last 10 contests.
However, NJIT’s latest contest — an 88-82 loss to North Carolina A&T on Saturday — featured a record-breaking performance.
Freshman guard Damon Lynn set a school record for scoring with a 34-point effort against the Aggies, hitting nine of his 18 three-point attempts. His hot hand poses an imposing challenge for Penn guards Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Tony Hicks.
But the Quakers are not intimidated by elite snipers, having held NCAA scoring leader Antoine Mason to 9-for-25 shooting back when they stuffed Niagara on Nov. 26, 85-66.
“We can’t rely on one man to stop [Lynn], per se, it has to be overall team effort,” Allen said. “I just think all our guys are more so focused on getting back in transition, not turning the ball over, finding their man early … just trying to put a solid defensive game together.”
The key to victory over the Highlanders may not necessarily be Jackson-Cartwright and Hicks outgunning Lynn from the wing.
Of NJIT’s 12 players who have received floor time this season, none stand over 6-foot-8. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that Penn’s imposing forwards — 6-foot-11 Darien Nelson-Henry and 6-foot-8 Fran Dougherty — will receive plenty of looks in the post, especially considering their tendencies to bully smaller opponents.
“We always try to play inside-out,” Allen said. “We like to think that our two interior players are tough to guard when they’re focused and they’re locked in, so hopefully that trend can continue.”
If it does, the Quakers may just take full advantage of their last nonconference chance.
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