Time for an encore.
In its first Big 5 game of the season against La Salle, Penn basketball snapped out of a funk to capture its biggest win in several years. Now, as they start a six-game, month-long winter break slate, the Quakers hope they can repeat those Thanksgiving heroics when they face Temple on Wednesday.
In their last outing, the Red and Blue (4-4) never led, falling behind by double digits early before suffering a 63-44 loss on the road at the hands of George Mason. While senior center Darien Nelson-Henry scored in double figures for the eighth time in as many games this year, Penn, as a team, managed to hit only six shots in the first half while finishing the game 5-for-20 from three.
Now, following a tough stretch in which they played three games in six days, the Quakers hope to bounce back against the Owls (3-4) before taking advantage of a 10-day layoff as their players prepare for finals.
“I think, especially after this Temple game, a break is going to be valuable for us,” junior Matt Howard said. “We need to keep learning how to play within this system.”
While the Owls’ record may seem subpar, it is also misleading. Three of the team’s four losses came to then-No. 1 North Carolina, then-No. 22 Butler and then-No. 16 Utah, as well as a loss on the road to Wisconsin.
Temple is led by senior Quenton DeCosey, a 6-foot-5 guard averaging 13.7 points and nearly six rebounds per game. The Owls also feature senior forward Jaylen Bond and senior guard Devin Coleman, both of whom are scoring over 10 points per contest thus far in 2015-16.
Although Penn will be tasked with containing Temple’s three scorers, in order for the Red and Blue to snap their losing skid on Wednesday, they will need to rediscover its efficient offense from earlier in the year, one that managed to score at a prolific rate.
“I think we’ve gotten away from playing our offense the way it can be played,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Teams have made adjustments to us and they’re not chasing us around as much. We need to do a better job of moving the ball, moving our bodies, sharing the ball and making better decisions.
“Somehow we have to do a better job about playing fast and executing, which we haven’t done in the last two games.”
Following the Quakers’ matchup with the Owls, they will have 10 days off before taking on Division III Ursinus, Donahue’s alma mater, at the Palestra. Within the subsequent week, Penn will take on two local foes: Drexel in a battle of 33rd street and Villanova in a Big 5 affair.
“After [the Temple game], it’s a good chance to take a step back and see where you are,” Donahue said. “I think that’s a great time for us in the Ivies because we get a little more time where we’re not on the road, we play some local squads, look for progress, work harder in practice. Then we can see growth in the team each game so by the time we play Princeton we know who we are.
“I think it’s more of a positive thing,” Howard added. “It lets a bunch of the guys to fully learn what we need to do to get wins on a regular basis.
Once the calendar flips to January, the Quakers will then take on Binghamton in their penultimate non-conference game of the year. And while most Penn students will not be back on campus when the squad opens Ivy League play on Jan. 9, the two winningest programs in Ancient Eight history always have competitive battles.
“The Princeton game is hard to describe,” Howard said. “It’s the beginning of the Ivy League season, it’s always such an important game, it’s a must-win and we need to get off to a good start. We’re grateful to play that game every year.”
Though the Red and Blue have a month-long stretch of games before returning to classes in January, it all begins with their matchup with Temple on Wednesday. And if the Quakers can snap their losing skid, they may very well be set up for more encores as 2015 comes to a close.
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