Caleb Wood is adjusting nicely to life with Penn basketball.
The junior transfer dropped 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting in just his third game as a member of the Red and Blue. Those 25 were just a shade more than the final point differential in the Quakers’ 87-65 whopping of Central Connecticut State Tuesday night in New Britain, Conn.
“Terrific three-point shooter,” coach Steve Donahue said about his new guard who hit seven of his ten attempts from behind the arc.
“It’s been him getting used to us and us getting used to him,” Donahue added about Wood, who (unlike fellow transfer Matt MacDonald) did not have the benefit of spending last year learning the system from the sidelines.
“If anything I want him to be more aggressive,” Donahue added.
The Quakers (2-1) were only up six at halftime and struggling on the offensive glass when they headed into the break.
Senior forward Matt Howard led the charge back out of the gates.
“He was so determined,” Donahue said, “flying his body around, playing like a senior who wants his team to win.”
Howard finished with 21 points on only ten shots and corralled a team-high eight rebounds.
The only player to start all 28 games for the Red and Blue last season, Howard has been an important holdover for the Quakers. Donahue noted that he spent months working on his shooting over the offseason, helping him to improve an element of his already explosive offensive game.
Howard’s progress is a testament to not just his work ethic but that of the entire team, which is in just its second full season of Donahue’s tenure.
“This group is way more committed to winning,” Donahue said of this year’s squad. “They are making priorities and making sacrifices on and off the court to be a better basketball team.”
Their cohesiveness has been key in their early season road success.
The Red and Blue have yet to play a game at the Palestra this year. On Saturday they will have their final road bout at Navy before they host Villanova in the home opener next week.
The travel has become routine for the young squad, and they have adapted well.
“Playing on the road is such a challenge,” Donahue said. “It let’s figure out who we are. It’s become normal now. The crowd is against you and it almost helps you focus more.”
Extra motivation will be avenging last year’s loss to Midshipmen at the Palestra. Going into Annapolis and gathering another win will give Penn momentum before their Big 5 matchup with the defending champs.
The Quakers will stay busy during the holiday weekend in order to be prepared for those tests. The squad will hold a morning practice on Thursday before they gather for a team Thanksgiving dinner that evening.
Currently 89th in RPI, the Red and Blue have slowly begun to ascend into the upper echelon of the Ivy League. That upward mobility is no doubt due to the team’s camaraderie and work ethic.
“There’s a really good culture building here,” Donahue says.
Central Connecticut State was one thing, Navy will be tougher, and Villanova will dwarf both in comparison. But, for now Penn has a winning record and is trending up. If nothing else, that is something to give thanks for.
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