WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — 2013 is already much better than 2009 for Penn men’s basketball.
The last time Penn faced Monmouth, the Quakers lost and proceeded to fire coach Glen Miller after the game.
But Jerome Allen would not fall to the Hawks like his predecessor.
Despite letting Monmouth hang around, Penn was resilient and pulled out the victory, 79-73.
The Red and Blue (1-1) got off to a slow start, going down 12-2 in the first half but responding immediately with a 16-0 run to give Penn an 18-12 lead over the Hawks (1-1) in just a few minutes.
“It’s unfortunate to see the unit go out and not be engaged,” Allen said. “I need to do a better job at getting our team engaged … We were down 10 at the beginning and got a little lucky.”
After their slump, the Quakers held a firm grasp on the Hawks for most of the first half, shooting 44.1 percent from the field. Penn also improved its rebound total to 23 in the first half, three better than its entire game against Temple.
But better isn’t good enough.
“We talk all the time about competing at the Division I level, and in particular you can’t turn the ball over, you gotta keep people out of the paint and you must rebound the ball,” Allen said. “Those three things I thought we did a horrible job of tonight.”
The Quakers turned the ball over 22 times, gave up 36 points in the paint. Despite the Hawks fouling early and often, Penn almost matched Monmouth foul for foul, committing 22 fouls to the Hawks’ 25.
“Tonight we had some foul trouble. I gotta try and step up on that, but I did what I could and we got the win,” sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry said after the Quakers’ three big men – Fran Dougherty, Henry Brooks and Nelson-Henry – racked up 12 combined personal fouls.
For most of the second half, Penn failed to pull away from Monmouth due to a lack of offensive execution and a tough Hawks defense.
Monmouth increased its presence in the paint and was physically all over the Quakers, eventually leading to a 59-59 tie midway through the second half.
“We felt like if we did what we were supposed to do, we would pull out the game,” senior guard Miles Cartwright said. “We want to defend that lead … we will get better at putting our feet on their necks.”
And Penn fought back thanks to timely three-point shooting from Cartwright, as the Red and Blue extended their lead over the Hawks in the late stages of the game.
From there, smart plays by sophomore guard Julian Harrell and junior guard Patrick Lucas-Perry put Penn in position to win, drawing fouls and draining enough free throws to push the Red and Blue to a sure victory in the waning moments of the game.
The Quakers thought they were lucky to walk away with a victory, and it’s not something Allen wants to rely on moving forward.
“I don’t want to win because of luck,” Allen said. “I want to win because we execute the details better than the other team.”
The Red and Blue will look to improve on their turnovers, offensive rebounding and foul trouble when Penn State comes to the Palestra at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
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