Going into last night’s matchup with La Salle, it looked like the Penn basketball team would have a ‘big’ problem.
‘Big,’ as in the Explorers’ frontcourt duo of 6-foot-10 center Aaric Murray and 6-foot-8 power forward Jerrell Williams — who had combined to average 30.4 points and 16.7 rebounds this season going into the contest.
However, what transpired at Tom Gola Arena was a far cry from a bulldozing onslaught by La Salle’s post players.
Ironically, in the first half it was Penn’s offense that was predicated on dump-down passes and interior scoring. The Quakers attacked the imposing Murray, running a number of screen-and-roll plays to force him to rotate on defense.
Murray seemed reluctant to do so, and Penn was able to capitalize. The Quakers’ big men duo of senior Conor Turley and freshman Fran Dougherty combined for 12 points in the first half, mostly on layups. The Quakers even out-rebounded the much bigger Explorers 21-16 in the frame.
La Salle head coach John Giannini acknowledged his team’s poor defensive play, explaining that he needs more of his players to have a defensive mentality.
“I’m not preaching to the choir yet,” he said of his defensive instruction. “I’m still trying to get converts.”
However, as efficient as the Quakers were in exploiting La Salle’s porous defense, they were dreadful from deep, hitting just 1-of-9 three-point attempts in the first half.
To overcome the 37-29 halftime deficit, the Red and Blue would have had to start making the three-ball — a prospect that didn’t seem likely given the cold opening half shooting.
For the first 17 minutes of the second frame, Penn’s three-point shooting was non-existent and La Salle maintained a healthy 10-point cushion for much of the half.
With 3:21 to go, however, the unpredictable game was turned on its head.
What had previously been Penn’s Achilles heel in the first half was now its greatest strength. Co-captains Zack Rosen and Jack Eggleston found their strokes, combining for 15 points in that final stretch — nine points coming off three-pointers — to lead an incredible comeback. Penn outscored La Salle 16-4 to send the game into overtime.
But during the extra time, any momentum that Penn had built quickly faded. The shots stopped falling and the Explorers, led by senior Ruben Guillandeaux, were able to stave off the Quakers.
After the game, Rosen called the Quakers’ comeback “lucky,” while head coach Jerome Allen emphasized that his team failed to show up, especially defensively.
But truth be told, Penn had a legitimate shot to win the game. The Quakers’ size disadvantage that seemed glaring on paper never unfolded. Murray notched 19 points and eight rebounds, but did not dominate Penn’s big men, especially given his defensive woes. Instead, ironically, the game came down to the long ball.
La Salle made its attempts when it needed to — an efficient 8-of-14 for the game — while Penn’s makes came too few, too late.
Had the Quakers been able to complement their aggressive inside game with better three-point shooting in the first half, perhaps this story would be chronicling the Red and Blue’s first Big 5 win in four years.
Instead, it’s just an “L,” which doesn’t stand for lucky.Comments powered by Disqus
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