CATONSVILLE, Md., — Matched up against a young and turnover-prone UMBC squad, the men’s basketball team did what it was supposed to do Friday night — relentlessly pressure the ball.
Penn’s high-energy defense forced 20 turnovers — 14 in the first half alone — en route to a 59-45 win in the team’s season-opener at UMBC’s RAC Arena.
The Retrievers, who were without the services of star point guard Chris De La Rosa, seemed rattled by the active ball denial of the Quakers’ defense all night long, but especially from the get-go. UMBC, which started two freshmen (one at point guard), coughed it up four times in the first two minutes.
Still, coach Jerome Allen said he was not satisfied with his team’s overall defensive performance, which did have its flaws.
The Quakers, led by hard-nosed defender senior Rob Belcore, were flying around the perimeter and hounding the Retrievers each possession, but they did not always finish off their defensive stands, particularly in the first half.
The Retrievers pulled down eight offensive boards in that first period, outrebounding Penn, 23-10, in the opening 20 minutes. That advantage, plus some sloppiness by the Penn offense late, helped UMBC go into the break down just three points.
“We were playing really hard … but we still blew a lot of assignments,” Belcore said. “We have a lot of improvement to do on the defensive end.”
Offensively, the Red and Blue executed fairly well, but they did not capitalize on some of their better opportunities. The team shot just 41.2 percent from the field, and the high-scoring duo of senior Tyler Bernardini and sophomore Miles Cartwright — who combined to average 24.6 points a game last year — was held to 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting.
There to pick up the slack was senior point guard Zack Rosen, who served as the team’s closer Friday night.
The captain was judicious in determining when to assert himself offensively, and he found his opportunities in the second half.
“I was in a rhythm and coach kept calling my play, so all I had to do was knock them down,” said Rosen, who scored 16 points in the crucial second-half, and a game-high 26 on the night.
Rosen’s tough jumpers provided dagger after dagger — at one point, he scored nine points in under four minutes — and UMBC was never able to really threaten in the final period.
While the game may not have played out exactly the way Allen wanted it to, he still got an opportunity to tinker with the new-look Penn rotation against the smaller, more inexperienced UMBC squad.
Allen started the 6-foot-6 Belcore, who began his Penn career more as a two-guard, at the four position, allowing for a quicker, more versatile lineup. Allen also experimented with a three-guard lineup including Rosen, Cartwright and freshman Patrick Lucas-Perry. Freshman guard Cam Crocker also played both on and off-the-ball during his 12 minutes of play.
“I think [Belcore will] be effective for us throughout the season whether we play him at the four or whether we play him at the three,” Allen said. “I know we’re going to get everything he has.”
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