Penn men's basketball coach Steve Donahue is not one to overreact.
But after losing both legs of a weekend doubleheader, things are going from bad to worse for the Quakers in conference play.
Saturday’s 82-70 loss to Brown was a game the Red and Blue (6-8, 0-3 Ivy) were favored to win, but the Bears (10-8, 1-1 Ivy) put on an offensive show in the Palestra, shooting 49 percent from the field and adding 24 points from the free throw line.
A frantic opening few minutes featured both offenses putting up points, a trend that would continue for nearly the entirety of the game. Noticeably for the Quakers, Matt Howard, who had been struggling to score in the first two Ancient Eight clashes, showed a renewed shooting stroke, getting into double figures by halftime.
“If we’re going to win, Matt is going to be a consistent scorer,” Donahue said. “He’s an integral part of what we’re doing. I think he played hard tonight.”
However, it was Brown who took a 36-31 lead into the intermission.
The second half started much the same as the first had, although a dry spell midway through the half from the Red and Blue allowed the Bears to extend their lead to double-digits. A 13-5 scoring run from the Quakers pulled them to within 2, sending the Palestra into delirium. At this point, Penn faithful started to believe in the comeback. Surprisingly, Donahue suggested that the feeling did not spread to the bench.
“I thought we had a chance,” Donahue said. “But there was a constant feeling that we didn’t have a complete understanding of how we were going to win this game.”
Unfortunately for the Red and Blue, Donahue’s words were the reality. The deficit would be increased once again by the Bears, resulting in the eventual 82-70 loss.
One matchup that was always going to be key in this game was Penn’s defense against Brown’s offense. Defensively, the Quakers give up under 65 points per game, and offensively, Brown averages close to 80. On the night, it was the Bears who won that battle, knocking down crucial buckets all night while the Red and Blue looked to cut into their lead.
Despite the defensive struggles, Donahue maintains that it’s on the offensive side of the ball that the Quakers need the most improvement.
“It’s a real lack of execution, a real lack of poise,” Donahue said. “A little bit of inexperience crept in too at some critical times. We have to look at specifics too. That’s where my focus is at — the teaching.”
Donahue also stressed the link between offense and defense.
“When we make our shots it allows us to set our defense,” Donahue said.
Whether it be offense or defense, the improvements need to come quickly for the Quakers. Looking at the next few Ivy games, it does not get any easier for the Red and Blue. Matchups at Harvard, at Dartmouth, and a home rematch against Princeton will all be stern tests for a team that still has its sights on an Ivy League Tournament berth.
On the topic of the conference tournament, Donahue still remains optimistic about his team’s chances despite these early setbacks.
“We have three weeks right now where we don’t play in the Ivy,” Donahue pointed out. “We have a great opportunity to really get better with two Big 5 games.”
And if Penn are to have any chance at making the conference tournament, they better hope that Donahue is right. One thing is for sure — the Quakers have to improve, and quickly.
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