It’s been 328 days since the Quakers last won away from the Palestra.
That night, Zack Rosen scored Penn’s final nine points and Tyler Bernardini drew a crucial charge on the last play of the game to give Penn a 55-54 comeback victory over Harvard and exciting momentum in the Ivy League title race.
A lot has changed since then.
Rosen and Bernardini are gone and halfway through this season, the Quakers are just 2-13 and have yet to win a road game this year. Penn will seek its first road win and 1700th win as a program Thursday night against the NJIT Highlanders (9-8) at the Fleisher Athletic Center.
The Quakers have remained optimistic and think that with only a few minor changes, they can have better results going forward.
“I’m not looking for a turnaround. What I’m looking for is forward progression,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “All in all, we’re right where we need to be. You can’t jump steps.”
Some fans have been calling for a more dramatic turnaround, with some questioning Allen’s coaching performance this season. Junior captain Dau Jok took offense to such criticism.
“Everybody is questioning coach and what he should do and all of this stuff,” Jok said. “But the reality is that of all those great minds making suggestions, he’s got 50 times more basketball experience than all of them do.”
Since its loss against Princeton last Saturday, Penn has been practicing harder than ever with several extensive film sessions.
“Any time you have a layoff … before your next game, you have an opportunity to work solely on you and how the team can be better,” Allen said.
He explained that watching film has helped his team to develop “an appreciation for the details.”
Even before watching film, Penn should be familiar with the Highlanders’ program. The Quakers entered the NJIT record books after giving the Highlanders their 51st consecutive loss in 2009, an unofficial Division I record.
However, the Highlanders are a completely different team than they were four years ago. “I think they’re playing extremely well,” Allen said of his opponent. “They play hard. They play together.”
The Quakers have put particular emphasis on team defense in these practices.
“We haven’t had many games where we’ve stopped people,” Jok said. “Defense is what it is. If we play well on defense, everything will take care of itself.”
NJIT will be an especially tough matchup for the Quakers on the boards. The Highlanders are 10th in the country, averaging 41.7 rebounds per game. Penn averages just 31.5 and is last in the Ivy League in rebounding margin.
The Red and Blue have been shorthanded as of late without their leading scorer, Fran Dougherty. He returned to practice yesterday but will not likely play Thursday night.
Allen expects the Quakers to have “a higher sense of urgency” against the Highlanders.
If the Quakers expect to turn around or even show “forward progression” going into the Ivy season, they will need to show the urgency of a team whose season is quickly slipping away.
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