Steele | Near-complete performance has Penn basketball ready for Ivies

If Quakers can string together most phases of their game, Ivy success could be around the corner

· January 26, 2014, 12:06 am

As Penn basketball gets ready for the Ivy League homestretch of this season, there are a few takeaways from the Quakers’ less-than- stellar 14-game nonconference stretch.

Unfortunately, most of them are points that coach Jerome Allen has heard enough about.

Losing the rebounding margin. Stupid fouls. Turnovers. Blowing large leads to inferior teams like Rider. More turnovers. Not showing up for games against La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Iowa.

That list is probably long enough to keep Allen up at night.

But there’s one other trend that the team can reflect on as it prepares for the rest of Ivy play: When Penn plays a near-complete game, when the Quakers limit their boneheadedness to a sole phase of the game, they tend to come out on top.

Take a look at Penn’s four wins this season and it’s clear how Penn won. Against Niagara, Monmouth, Princeton and now NJIT, the Quakers played virtually complete games.

Allen consistently talks about pushing his team to be perfect, but even he knows that idea is unrealistic.

“I think we strive to play every phase of the game as best as we can,” Allen said following Saturday’s victory. “We’re aiming for perfection even though we know we’ll eventually fall short of that.

“I didn’t think we played a complete game. I thought we had a couple of spurts that were solid but the unforced turnovers … it bothered me.”

The losses for Penn this season have piled up, and it says enough that the sample size for what Penn does right in victories is limited to just four contests.

In most cases, including the four wins in 2013-14, Penn is still its own worst enemy.

In their first win of the season against Monmouth, the Red and Blue gave up 23 offensive rebounds. They turned the ball over 15 times against Niagara and another 19 against Princeton.

That goes without mentioning the 18 turnovers and 32 free throw attempts Penn surrendered against the Highlanders on Saturday night.

All things considered, it’s kind of scary to picture how good this team could be.

The Quakers racked up 89 points against NJIT, and that’s with Darien Nelson-Henry going scoreless from the field. The sophomore center’s 10 points all came from the charity stripe.

Including Nelson-Henry, Penn’s four best players combined for 66 of the team’s 89 points, with Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Tony Hicks scoring 23 points apiece and Fran Dougherty adding another 10.

Still, the Highlanders managed to score 22 points off of Penn’s 18 turnovers. With that quartet of stars, Penn could have easily scored 100 if it ended more possessions with shots instead of the ball in NJIT’s hands.

Despite Allen’s wishes, the Red and Blue certainly didn’t play perfectly against the Highlanders. But they didn’t have to.

The Quakers rode Cartwright’s hot hand and Hicks’ aggressiveness to a relatively comfortable win. Sure they turned the ball over a lot, but that’s the only thing that can be held against them from this performance.

Moving ahead, it’s clear what Penn needs to do as they enter the bulk of Ivy play: The team needs to play the way it did on Saturday in every conference game.

If the Quakers can manage that, their games won’t be perfect. They may not even be pretty. But if Penn can limit its errors to one phase of the game while doing everything else well, it will put together complete performances.

And if the Quakers do that for the rest of the season, just like against NJIT, the Ivy success that comes with it will be good enough to let Allen forget about Penn’s abysmal nonconference run.

SEE ALSO

Penn basketball rides offensive outburst to easy win over NJIT, 89-74

Penn basketball looks to rebound from St. Joe’s loss vs. NJIT

Tydings | Figuring out the Tony Hicks ‘roller coaster’ for Penn basketball

Penn basketball blown out by Saint Joseph’s, 85-68

Henderson | Penn basketball underwhelms on Palestra’s big day

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