There’s a reason defense wins championships.
12:04 into the first half against Cornell, Penn was shooting over 75 percent from the floor — that’s about as lights out as you can get.
But at that point, they held just a two point lead, 28-26.
For the rest of the half, the Quakers would continue to shoot well, but nonetheless cooled down on the offensive side of the ball.
At halftime, they were up 18.
In the second half, the Red and Blue continued to shoot well above 50 percent.
And Cornell closed the gap to five multiple times.
“Between that — silly turnovers — and missed free throws crushed us,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said as the Big Red’s inability to finish off the comeback.
Welcome to Penn basketball — a team that, even when it’s scoring at will, lives and dies on the defensive end of the floor. A team that has given up 70 points in all but two of its games thus far. A team that allows 11.1 offensive rebounds per game — 26th worst in Division I.
“We have to be a little more determined to keep guys off the glass,” coach Jerome Allen said.
Friday night was no different. Penn gave up 83 points to a team that hasn’t hit the 80-point mark in regulation and conceded 16 offensive rebounds. The Red and Blue may have shot 56.5 percent in the second half … but were outscored. You simply can’t rely on your offense to shoot above 60 percent for the game to win.
And it’s not as if Penn lacks the defensive talent to be dangerous. In the last 10:50 of the first half, Cornell scored 11 points. But for the other 29 minutes, baskets were about as common as A’s at Harvard.
“Should have played with a red, white and blue ball,” Courtney said. “It was like an ABA game.”
This comes down to consistency. Penn’s offense has it. The defense hasn’t heard of the word. So what’s the problem?
“Sometimes fatigue is a factor,” coach Jerome Allen said
Fitness? I don’t think so. As Allen point out, the teams traded buckets for the first 11 minutes. How about the defense itself?
Coach Jerome Allen has tinkered around with his starting lineup plenty this season. Maybe he should start switching around his zoned-out zone defense. Too often, just a little pace can shred the Quakers common 2-3 zone. It’s no surprise that Penn stops came whenever Cornell slowed the ball down.
It’s a shame. There are multiple games this season Penn should have won easily given its offensive production — the loss to George Mason in which Penn shot 63 percent comes to mind. And Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Tony Hicks have carried the team from the field more often than they should have to. Simply, Penn can compete with most anyone in the Ivy League offensively.
But, quite literally, that’s only half the story. Anyone watching the Super Bowl last Sunday learned this: a potent offense doesn’t mean anything if you get torched on defense.
The Quakers pulled out the ‘W’ against 1-18 Cornell. But if they don’t shore up their defense, they’ll be seeing red for the rest of the season.