PROVIDENCE, R.I.- Penn basketball’s descent into the surreal began before the team even stepped foot into Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center.
In a sign of things to come, the team’s bus ground to a halt on Main street, unable to continue in the swirling snow. The Quakers would have to walk to the arena.
Believe it or not, it actually got worse from there.
Much like Friday against Yale, the Red and Blue were the beneficiary of an outstandingly-poor first half shooting performance from their opponent — the Bears shot 9 for 30 in the game’s first 20 minutes.
But the Quakers weren’t able to truly take advantage of that fact thanks to a usual culprit: turnovers. Penn gave the ball away 13 times in the first half, allowing Brown to hang around when, by all accounts, it shouldn’t have.
Given a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, the Bears made the Quakers pay. The dominance of Penn forward Darien Nelson-Henry disappeared in instant, as his 20-point effort was smothered by the long arms of Brown forward Cedric Kuakumensah, the reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.
And gone was the Quakers’ ability to crash the boards, as the Red and Blue collected only two offensive rebounds in the final 10 minutes of the game, standing idly by as Kuakumensah cleaned up second chances and guard Sean McGonagill got hot from outside.
“I just thought we were impatient,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “We stopped trying to play inside-out, we started settling for jump shots. When you make a couple, it’s kind of like fool’s gold, because it came back to bite us in the end.”
“I think it was just a lack of effort with the whole team,” Nelson-Henry added about the late collapse on the boards. “We were tired, we didn’t just push through it mentally, really.”
Add on another eight turnovers in the second half and all of the ingredients were there for another mind-boggling, head-scratching, fist-pounding-on-the-table, 62-55 loss.
“We were solid for 30-35 minutes,” Allen said. “But we had opportunities to put Brown away, and we didn’t … it came back to bite us.”
The only question that remains now is why, at this point in the season, is that still the case?
Why does this team continue to make the same mistakes it was making back when it was getting blown out of the water by Penn State in November?
Why do Penn’s biggest players, time and again, get solved by opponents down the stretch?
And why hasn’t Allen figured out a way to stop the bleeding and get his players to stick together when it matters most?
Last week, Allen, by his estimation, saw his team play 20 minutes of good basketball.
Tonight, it was 30-35.
Will fans ever see 40?
It’s up to Allen to make that happen with the Quakers’ postseason hopes all but dead at this point.
If he can’t, then watching Penn play basketball will quickly turn into a Sisyphean task at which even Camus would shudder.