Excitement was running high in the Palestra on Wednesday night as Penn women’s basketball opened its home slate against Binghamton. The night began with the unveiling of the Quakers’ 2015-16 Ivy League Championship banner, the program’s fourth addition to the Palestra’s rafters.
The presentation was followed by a hype video compilation of the highlights from the 2015-16 season superimposed with red and blue headshots of the Quakers’ starting lineup. Still in their warm-ups, the Penn players gazed up at the scoreboard in awe as the lyrics “ready or not, here I come” blared throughout the Cathedral of College Basketball.
It would be a foreboding anthem for the night, as Penn’s usually precise offense struggled to challenge the upstart Bearcats, falling 61-48 to Binghamton (1-2) in the Quakers’ (0-2) second straight nonconference loss of the week.
“I thought we were prepared, I thought we were ready to go, the excitement was there it just didn’t translate,” coach Mike McLaughlin said of the home opener.
“We got out-worked, we got out-willed and we got the result that we should have gotten.”
The scoring action started with three-point swish from senior guard Kasey Chambers, but would stop not long after. In the first quarter, the Quakers shot just 2-for-10 before McLaughlin called a timeout to refocus his team.
While Penn was able to recover a bit of momentum halfway through the first quarter, Binghamton took back control thanks to a late-quarter turnover by junior guard Anna Ross and a subsequent breakaway layup by Imani Watkins that put the visitors up 15-6.
Binghamton’s lead would only widen in the second quarter. Senior center Sydney Stipanovich and junior forward Michelle Nwokedi temporarily fired up the Quakers’ attack with two back-to-back lay-ups, but shooting troubles continued to beleaguer the home team, as Penn was held scoreless for over six minutes while the Bearcats ran up the score 34-19. Penn finished the half shooting nine of 30, a slight regression from its first-half performance against Duke on Saturday in which the Quakers shot 12 of 31.
“I just wanted them to play the game in a flow and I think we struggled,” McLaughlin said. “We’re playing each possession very choppy, very unsure of ourselves. We’re not getting anything easy in transition.”
Indeed, the second half featured more choppy basketball from Penn. Nwokedi, who ended the night with a team-high 17 points, got hot late in the third quarter and scored two layups and just missed a three-pointer. But Binghamton answered with a basket every time and ended the first thirty minutes of play with a commanding 17-point lead.
Things started to click for the Quakers in the final quarter, but it was too little too late. Stipanovich found glimpses of her peak defensive form, tallying 16 boards and four blocks. Rallying around its captain, the defense hit its groove in fits and spurts and managed to hold the Bearcats scoreless for over four minutes. Through that stretch, Penn was nearly equally unsuccessful on offense and tallied only just four points. The game ended as it started with a trey from Chambers; this one rained down as time expired.
The eyes of the home team’s players were vacant as the Penn band serenaded the crowd with its usual upbeat rendition of “The Red and the Blue.” It was clear that the result was a shock.
“I thought we were going to come in here in this environment and really do well and play good basketball and we did not do that,” McLaughlin said. “And that’s on me.”
Penn has almost emerged on the other side of its initial whirlwind stretch, as the last of its six-day, three-game slate remains against Rhode Island (1-1) on Friday. McLaughlin’s team will have barely 48 hours to find its stride and shake off a disappointing start to Palestra play.
“We just need to play better basketball for longer stretches and that’s my job to get that going,” he said. “One game doesn’t make a good season or a bad season.”
As the Quakers look on to Friday, they must hope that neither do three.
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