Penn women’s basketball traveled a long way just to get to the Palestra on Sunday to face Norfolk State.
But don’t think for a second that the long travel would weigh down the Red and Blue.
The Quakers arrived home early in the morning but came out with energy from the opening tip, easily taking down the Spartans, 79-49, for their seventh straight non-conference victory — tying a program record.
“I think it says a hell of a lot about the character of the team,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We had an emotional exciting win Wednesday in Miami and we had to practice down there on Friday and Saturday.
“And they came out unbelievably excited to practice and we had two of our better practices of the year.”
Norfolk State (5-8) kept the game close for the first handful of minutes, trailing by only a couple, 12-10.
But from there, it was all Red and Blue as Penn (7-2) went on a 28-5 run to end the first half, all but extinguishing the Spartans’ hopes for a victory by taking a 25-point lead into halftime – the largest halftime lead in McLaughlin’s time as head coach at Penn.
Keying the big run was two of Penn’s underclassmen off the bench: freshman center Sydney Stipanovich and sophomore point guard Keiera Ray.
Stipanovich scored nine early points to pace the Quakers while picking up five rebounding in the opening half. The freshman finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while collecting six of Penn’s program record-tying 11 blocks.
McLaughlin was complementary of the progress she has made on the defensive end.
“She has really developed as a defender,” he said. “She’s long and she can block shots. She is structurally starting to be in the right spot all the time so when the guards get beat, she can step up and change the shot.”
But it was Ray, playing just her third game of the year, who shined more than anyone, scoring a game-high 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field after scoring just one point in her first two games.
“With today’s game, it was great for [Keiera],” McLaughlin said. “She played more minutes than she has played… she is regaining that confidence that works for her.”
“It felt good to be back on the court trying to help my team,” Ray added. “It was nice to get a win and everything and I just wanted to help contribute to the team’s win.”
The Quakers dominated all facets of the game, outrebounding the Spartans, 46-38, forcing 16 turnovers and making 20 free throws to just six for Norfolk State. On top of that, Penn had 12 different players score, displaying the team’s depth.
“We’re playing a deeper rotation than we’ve had,” McLaughlin said. “Our goal for the players that we have to play a role, [those players] are playing their roles really well right now.
“Depth is a great thing. It is a challenging game, a physical game and I am confident that if someone goes down or is not as sharp as they need to be that day, then we know other players can step up and play.”
While none of Penn’s starters played more than 20 minutes thanks to the comfortable lead, the squad still got a strong performance from junior forward Kara Bonenberger. The junior was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, scoring 10 points and contributing five blocks.
Penn began winter break with close upset victories over Drexel and Miami so the blowout victory over Norfolk State was a welcomed sight for the Red and Blue.
The Quakers now head to Morgan State on Wednesday before coming home to start Ivy play on Saturday when they face four-time defending Ivy champion Princeton.
“It is amazing,” Ray said. “Our team has really great momentum. We’re just worried about the next game, which is Morgan State, and then excited for Princeton.
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