That was not the opener they had hoped for.
In their first game of the season, Penn men's basketball fell to Fairfield, 80-72. The Quakers (0-1) were very streaky all game, and despite coming out of the gate with lots of fire, they faltered later in the game.
Penn's three-point shooting was perhaps the biggest reason for its offensive woes throughout the game. The Quakers shot an abysmal 23 percent from beyond the arc, and only one player, senior guard Caleb Wood, shot above 28 percent. But despite their struggles, they stuck with the trey — 39 of Penn's 72 shots were taken from deep.
"Some of it was wide open shots we missed that we typically make. Some of it was, because they played a match, it comes in different ways, it's not your typical off a set, off a drive and kick. It's different," coach Steve Donahue said.
The Red and Blue also struggled from the free throw line, shooting just 58 percent on 19 free throws. The poor shooting from three and the charity stripe prevented the Quakers from keeping up with Fairfield (1-0) and establishing any sort of sustained offensive rhythm.
On the other side of the ball, Penn had a difficult time stopping senior Tyler Nelson, the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year. Nelson put up 30 points, including 12 on free throws. His offensive contributions proved too much for the Quakers to handle.
The first half was really a story of two parts. For the first 12 minutes, the Quakers dominated on both sides of the ball. They had great ball movement on offense: all six of Penn's first half assists came within the first 10 minutes of the game. On defense, the Red and Blue played tight, forcing the Stags into touch shots. All in all, Penn had established a 26-14 lead with 8:16 left.
But in the final eight minutes of the half, the entire game flipped.
Penn's offense suddenly went ice cold, as the ball movement stopped and the Quakers stopped making smart decisions with their shots. And on the other end, the Stags came alive, sinking several threes and getting to the free throw line. In just five minutes, Fairfield went on a 15-1 run to take a 29-27 lead.
"They do a little different than most teams in college basketball," Donahue said. "They did a press, then they played a match ... I thought we prepared for it. We did not do a good job in that stretch."
The Red and Blue's offense got back on track before the end of the half, but they were not able to close the gap, as they went into the break down 36-33.
The second half saw some back and forth action. The Quakers came out of the locker cold at first, going just 2-for-7 from the field in the first few minutes of the half. Meanwhile, the Stags were dominating down low, scoring buckets at will, and they extended their lead to nine.
But Penn was able to turn it around. After a few key defensive stops, several hard-fought layups from Ryan Betley, Jackson Donahue, and Darnell Foreman brought the Quakers back to within one.
After a pair of Fairfield free throws, Penn had a chance to tie the game. And after a frantic possession, Caleb Wood splashed a trey to tie the game up at 53. But after that, the Quakers put up just seven points in the next eight minutes.
Meanwhile, Fairfield's offense got into another groove, powered again by buckets in the paint and from the charity strip. By the time Penn's offense started firing again, Fairfield had built up an insurmountable lead.
"We just take this game as a learning tool," senior guard Darnell Foreman said. "We gotta play harder. We gotta give a lot more effort on defense. We just gotta stay patient, and I think we're gonna do that."
This first game highlighted some of the weaknesses in Penn's game: streakiness on both sides of the ball, free throws, and defending in the paint. But with nine games this month, the Quakers will have plenty of time to work out the kinks.
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