Penn basketball took on a completely different character this weekend when junior Mike Howlett returned to the form that Quakers’ fans grew to love last season.
It has been an ugly truth of this Penn basketball season that the Quakers don’t have the talent or depth in their frontcourt to compete with the Keith Wrights, Ian Hummers and Greg Manganos of the Ivy League.
This weekend Howlett showed that, when healthy, his presence changes the game.
The Amesbury, Mass., native got his shot when an ominous beginning to this weekend became a blessing in disguise. Senior co-captain and regular starting center Conor Turley and freshman forward Cameron Gunter both came down with illnesses that forced them to skip the road trip and further depleted Penn’s already thin frontcourt.
“It’s always frustrating when you can’t play and your [teammates] are working so hard,” Howlett said. “I was just happy to get out there and contribute to a winning effort.”
Coach Jerome Allen recognized Howlett’s tremendous effort on Friday night — a highly efficient 10 points and seven rebounds (including four offensive) — by giving him his first start of the season on Saturday, despite Turley joining the team in New Haven.
Howlett capitalized on his season-high 28 minutes, scoring 11 points and racking up three blocks, including a huge rejection of Austin Morgan on Yale’s final possession before Zack Rosen’s game-winning bucket.
“For someone just to be out of the rotation, not playing at all, and then just go ahead and play big minutes, get a huge game-saving block — hats off to him,” senior Tyler Bernardini said.
“He’s out of shape … so he was just all guts and glory,” Bernardini added. “He almost has to be the player of the weekend just because of what he had to push through.”
Bernardini one-upped his coach, who called Howlett’s block “the key play of the game.”
But Howlett’s “guts and glory” are not what separate him from the likes of Turley and Dougherty, who each have displayed their fair share of fortitude this season.
Sure, Howlett brings a bit more intensity and aggressiveness than Penn’s other bigs (remember when he body-slammed Jeff Foote in Penn’s upset of then-No. 22 Cornell last year?). Instead, it was the array of real skills he displayed on both ends of the court — jump hooks and other nice post moves offensively, shot-blocking instincts and quick feet defensively — that gave Penn an interior presence to complement its talented wings.
Having a big man like Howlett down low helps create more space for shooters like Bernardini. It allows the perimeter defenders to apply more pressure, knowing they have a better defensive presence behind them.
Most importantly, Howlett’s presence creates extra possessions by reducing the rebounding gap. The Quakers are next-to-last in the Ivies in rebounding, but they outrebounded the Bears and were even with the Bulldogs.
Allen was careful not to hand out too much praise on Howlett. “Our overall principles are never gonna change unless we’ve got Dikembe Mutombo out there,” he quipped.
To be sure, Turley and Dougherty — Penn’s main post players most of this season — have both logged quality minutes. But they simply can’t contribute as much as Howlett can, or in the case of Dougherty and Gunter, at least not yet. Rosen described Howlett’s weekend as “unbelievable.”
“Mike can play. I’ve always known it,” he added. “I hope he just keeps it up.”
Zack — and the rest of Quaker Nation.
NOAH ROSENSTEIN is a senior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is former Online Managing Editor and Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is DPsports@theDP.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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