Every Penn basketball fan knows who to look for when the Quakers take the floor. Tony Hicks cutting and slashing to the basket. Miles Cartwright spotting up from outside. Darien Nelson-Henry in his office under the basket.
But at a less-than-packed arena on Tuesday, it wasn’t these stars that saved the Red and Blue’s skin against Monmouth.
It was the bench.
And as coach Jerome Allen shuffled his lineup while Hicks struggled with his shot and Dougherty got into foul trouble, the Quakers’ reserves dropped in 19 crucial points to keep the Hawks at bay.
But the bench’s contributions extended far beyond the box score.
Reserves like sophomore guard Julian Harrell and junior guard Patrick Lucas-Perry came up big down the stretch, displaying the mental and physical resolve of players who receive twice their floor time.
Harrell, in his first minutes of college basketball after missing all of his freshman campaign due to injury, played like a veteran as he took a charge from Monmouth’s Deon Jones to draw an offensive foul late in the game when the Hawks were threatening to come back.
And it was Lucas-Perry, unintimidated by the charity stripe, who sank the game-clinching free throws with less than 30 seconds to play.
Even senior guard Dau Jok, better known for his abilities as an emotional leader than a pure scorer, got his due.
“I think about Dau Jok in the sense he played a total of seven minutes,” Allen said. “He gave us three rebounds, he tried to set screens and just whatever we needed. Whether he played seven minutes or seven seconds, he’s going to try to do what the team needs.”
Though Penn looks like a well-oiled machine when its starters are playing at full steam ahead, Tuesday night’s tough contest demonstrated that the Quakers have the depth needed to eke out a win when a player like Cartwright or Hicks struggles.
However, it may not be enough when the Quakers take on opponents superior to the lowly Hawks. Once again, the Red and Blue got outrebounded, this time against one of the shortest teams in the country. “I think in bits and pieces, some guys are still trying to find their rhythm about what this team needs,” Allen said. “I can talk about in a general sense that we gotta defend and keep people out of the paint, we gotta rebound the ball, we can’t turn the ball over.
“But, with that being said. We are just trying to find the right mix of guys that understand that, that appreciate that and value it and are willing to go out and execute that … I can’t say that’s the central theme throughout this team.”
It’s a cry for leadership, and not just leadership in 30 minutes of play, but in every minute. The core of the team has played at least one year together and watching the team slump to a 12-2 early deficit against an inferior opponent calls for the next guy to step up.
Penn doesn’t need more scoring leaders, bigger personalities or flashier movers, it needs a group of men that understands the goal of the team. Execution is a responsibility from the eldest senior to the youngest freshman.
If the team doesn’t see discipline, leadership and determination from its bench from here on out, then Quakers fans could be getting ready for another long season.
JIMMY LENGYEL is a College sophomore from Pensacola, Fla. and is an associate sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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