After Penn basketball’s blown second-half lead and loss to Wagner on Saturday, people around the program were likely thinking at a mile a minute.
Wednesday, the Quakers will tone things down a few notches — though it may not be by choice.
The Red and Blue (0-5) are slated to travel to Annapolis, Md. to take on Navy, one of the slowest-paced teams in the entire country.
Winners of two of their last three, the Midshipmen (2-5) have a tendency to produce low-scoring contests through their willingness to shorten the game and total number of trips down the floor for both sides.
“[Navy does] such a good job of executing and they make you pay for every mistake,” coach Jerome Allen said. “You’ve got to mix your patience and your focus together in terms of trying to play out a full 35-second shot clock possession.”
By and large, though, the Midshipmen have been unable to capitalize on their limited possessions. By Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Navy ranks 323rd out of 351 Division I teams in total adjusted offense, averaging only 91.7 points per 100 possessions.
For Penn, the key to getting its all-important first win of the season may lie in forcing the disciplined Navy squad out of its comfort zone.
“It’s gonna be a good test for us, because we haven’t done a great job of getting people out of their offense a lot this year,” junior center Darien Nelson-Henry said. “I think it’s gonna be a good game for us to pressure [the Midshipmen] defensively and try to get them out of their sets and make them take rushed shots.”
Rushed shots, of course, lead to transition opportunities, an area that has been a sore spot this year for the Quakers in their own defensive end.
Against Wagner on Saturday, Penn committed a ghastly 22 turnovers and allowed the Seahawks numerous odd-man opportunities.
Those mistakes led to a 64-61 defeat and a wasted 11-point, eight-rebound performance from Nelson-Henry.
The Quakers know they can’t afford to continue to shooting themselves in the foot.
“We’ve got guys going in spurts,” Allen said. “It was good to see Darien have some effectiveness inside ... but with that being said, we got 55 possessions for the game. We shoot over 57 percent. But yet we turn the ball over 22 times. It’s counterproductive.
“We were able to be effective and score the ball when we took good shots and took care of the ball, but with that being said, if you only get 33 shots at the basket, you’re probably not going to win too many ballgames.”
Facing a slower, halfcourt oriented team, the Quakers could easily wind up in another tight game late in the second half.
So far, those scenarios have not been kind to the Red and Blue. Penn lost its opener to Delaware State by a two-point margin, and was within three points of Temple with 1:15 to go last Tuesday before falling by nine.
With three freshmen currently entrenched in Allen’s regular rotation — a fourth, forward Mike Auger, is currently sidelined with a foot injury — the Red and Blue are still figuring out how to close out a game in the final minutes.
Part of that winning formula will develop naturally with experience, but some will come from the team’s game-by-game attitude after a stretch of tough early failures.
“You’ve got to make sure [the freshmen] stay confident,” said Nelson-Henry, a veteran of numerous close losses early into his third campaign. “You can’t be too hard on them after a loss like that, because then the next time they’re in that situation, they’re not gonna have the confidence to execute the way that they need to.”
After five hard lessons to open the season, the Quakers won’t need to wait long to get an opportunity to finish what they’ve started.
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