For a moment, it looked as if Penn basketball had turned a corner when it gave then-No. 5 Villanova a serious scare at home on Saturday.
Playing in front of a mostly-empty Palestra crowd, the Quakers came out sleepwalking against Monmouth and paid dearly. The visiting Hawks hit 21 of their first 33 shots and trounced the Red and Blue, 71-56, in a game that was over early.
Penn (4-10) couldn’t get anything to fall in the early going, despite using its motion offense to get many open looks. The Quakers missed eight of their first 11 shots and trailed by double digits for much of the first half.
“The thing that’s most frustrating is that they played with such attention to detail, a ton of energy and effort Saturday night,” coach Jerome Allen said. “And then to come back tonight and start the game the way we did or play it in pockets the way we did is disappointing.”
Meanwhile, Monmouth (10-9) burned the Red and Blue at will. The Hawks had nine assists in the first half and shot 56.3 percent from the field.
No one did more damage to Penn, though, than Hawks guard Max DiLeo.
Former Temple guard Anthony DiLeo’s little brother, the younger DiLeo, converted on almost every opportunity the Quakers presented him, including a thunderous breakaway dunk with 22 seconds left in the first half that sent the sizable contingent of Monmouth fans in the arena into a roar.
“I saw the opportunity as soon as [Andrew Nicholas] went for the steal,” DiLeo said of the dunk. “And I knew it was gonna be huge at the end of the half.
“It’s already hard when you’re losing at halftime and then you come off getting a fastbreak dunk. It really helped us, and I think it probably hurt them a little bit, just [because of] the momentum it gave us.”
Junior guard Deon Jones led all scorers with 17 points while DiLeo and fellow Monmouth sophomore Collin Stewart added 12 apiece.
As the Hawks’ lead swelled to as many as 23 points in the second half, Allen shifted his defense into a pressing and trapping scheme in a desperate attempt to get back in the game.
For a few minutes at least, it worked.
Penn clawed to within 11 points of Monmouth when freshman guard Antonio Woods — who was so good against Villanova five days earlier when he scored 18 points — went hard in the paint and drew an and-one with heavy contact heading into the under-four minute media timeout.
But Woods missed the foul shot that would have drawn Penn within 10, senior forward Greg Louis couldn’t get a good handle on the ball before it bounced out of bounds into the student section and the Red and Blue never threatened further.
Despite his outstanding effort against the Wildcats, Woods managed only five points in Wednesday’s contest. Junior guard Tony Hicks scored only eight points on three-for-eight shooting and center Darien Nelson-Henry added 12 points and six boards for Penn.
The Quakers have now lost four of their last five contests and could not escape this game without injury added onto insult.
Sophomore guard Matt Howard — who led the Quakers with 14 points and added three steals on the defensive end — suffered an apparent right wrist injury and had it wrapped after the game.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Allen said. “I haven’t spoken with our medical staff yet.”
Penn will close out its Big 5 and nonconference slate on Saturday against Saint Joseph’s at 7:00 PM.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.