Take a step back into the world of 1990’s rap, if you will, and pause to consider Penn coach Jerome Allen surveying the state of his team with a withering look somewhat akin to the gaze of the Nurse Ratched figure in Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” video.
“I don’t really know where we’re at,” he said when asked to describe his team’s progress following last night’s 82-67 loss to La Salle. “After the Marist game, I thought we were taking steps forward and then we come out in our last two games… I question our competitive spirit.
“And it starts with me, I take the blame for all of that.”
No one outside the program is going to act like they’ve never seen the Quakers play this way before. No jaws are all on the floor like Henry Brooks and Julian Harrell just burst in the door.
Much like it has been all season, Penn’s offense would function perfectly for stretches at a time against the Explorers. The Red and Blue shot 52% from the field for the game. Antonio Woods ran the point well.
But stretches of good play here and there aren’t good enough to beat an Atlantic-10 contender like La Salle. More often than not, the Quakers couldn’t get out of their own way. Penn committed 19 total turnovers, many of them coming on attempts to force the ball inside to Darien Nelson-Henry.
Explorers forwards Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack exposed Penn’s overall lack of frontcourt size at the other end of the floor, as well. They combined to score 30 points and collected seven offensive rebounds, one fewer than the entire Quakers’ roster.
“[The Explorers] were tougher, they were more competitive,” Allen said. “They got all the 50/50 balls and we’re not good enough not to cover those areas and still expect to win.”
This is a family newspaper, so I won’t be adding any more Marshall Mathers lyrics. But Shady’s message is clear: the Quakers need to find an identity. Now.
Are they going to be a team that burns Ivy foes from outside? Penn shot 4-for-9 from the three-point line against La Salle, but sharpshooter Sam Jones only played 10 minutes and went 0-for-3.
Are they going to take advantage of the post game? Despite his struggles on the glass, Nelson-Henry led Penn in scoring with 15 points.
Most importantly, freshman forward Mike Auger showed no signs of rust in his first game back from a foot injury that sidelined him for six games. Auger was a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor in 23 minutes of action.
“I thought he was tremendous,” Allen said. “I thought he was physical. He played hard, he gave us energy. He competed, as simple as that word sounds.”
Everyone in the Penn program knows what is looming on January 10th, when the Red and Blue open Ivy play in Jadwin Gym against Princeton.
The real Penn Quakers will need to stand up by then.
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