With just under eight minutes remaining and Penn holding onto a four point lead over Lafayette Wednesday at the Palestra, coach Mike McLaughlin was upset.
“You’ve got to shoot the basketball!” he said during a timeout. “You can’t double-take!”
The Quakers took their coach’s words to heart. In the last seven minutes of the contest, they outscored Lafayette, 16-7, a charge led by sophomore Alyssa Baron and freshman Renee Busch. The offensive push by the Quakers resulted in a 49-39 victory over the Leopards (2-5).
With the win, Penn is now 4-1 for the first time in program history — just two seasons removed from a 2-26 campaign — a mark that was not lost on Busch.
“I know it definitely means a lot for the upperclassmen,” Busch said. “For me, it feels good to start off [winning].”
For most of the game, the Quakers’ defense was all that kept this fourth win in sight. Both teams shot poorly from the field, each finishing around 30 percent on the night.
“It made sense that the girls were hesitant late in the game, after missing so many shots,” McLaughlin said.
Only Busch had her stroke the entire game. She made five of her eight attempts from long-range, becoming the first Penn player since 2008 to have five three-point field goals in a game.
“Renee won us the game,” McLaughlin said.
In addition to serving as one of the Quakers’ few sources of offense early in the game, Busch was also a vital part of the run that put the game out of the Leopards’ reach.
While she sank two threes late, Busch reinvigorated the Red and Blue’s offense for the win.
“When your teammates are being aggressive in the paint, it creates more open shots,” Busch said.
Baron took it upon herself to make things happen on a night when she was not shooting well from the field. She helped facilitate Penn’s late run with two clutch assists, despite shooting just 6-for-18 from the field.
“Alyssa’s grown up,” McLaughlin said. “She’s finding ways to affect the game even when her shot isn’t falling.”
Baron finished the game with six assists to go along with a hard-earned 14 points.
Despite her struggles, she came through when the team needed her the most, draining four of her last six shots.
While the offense found its rhythm at the end of the game, the Red and Blue’s defense against Lafayette’s sophomore center Danielle Fiacco, who stands 6-foot-7, was the key to the Quakers’ victory.
“We always had a body or two on the big girl, and forced her to take bad shots,” Baron said.
“We weren’t perfect on ‘D’,” Busch added. “But we played very well.”
They’ll need to bring that defensive intensity with them on their flight to South Bend, Ind., where a match-up with No. 3 Notre Dame looms large.