VILLANOVA, Pa. – Just who is Tony Bagtas?
The freshman guard wasn’t even a notable enough name on the roster to make the trip with his teammates to Iowa when Penn basketball took on the Hawkeyes last month. He dressed but didn’t play against Niagara four days later.
Then last Saturday at Lafayette, he sits for three quarters of the contest until coach Jerome Allen suddenly decides he’s game enough to log five minutes down the stretch.
And now, on the road battling the No. 14 team in the country, he gets 36 minutes, dishes nine assists and swoops in for six boards on the side.
So who is this man? If you know, loop Villanova coach Jay Wright in.
“They start Bagtas?” Wright asked at his postgame presser. “I didn’t even see him on film! That kid came in and did a hell of a job.”
Bagtas did look too much like a deer in the headlights early, maybe because Wright smelled blood. He came at Bagtas with a full-court press that did cause the freshman to turn the ball loose while he also struggled with his perimeter defensive rotations at the other end.
But the reins were unequivocally his, and he got better. Bagtas ran the point at every opportunity, with senior guard Miles Cartwright working the wing and part-time point man Jamal Lewis posting just eight minutes of playing time. Here it was, as promised: the Tony Bagtas show.
And it worked. Bagtas started beating back ‘Nova’s press, notching seven assists in the first half when everyone else – including sophomore guard Tony Hicks, who scored just a single point on the night – were throwing up prayers. The Quakers needed efficient ball distribution in a bad way in that first half, and they got it from Bagtas alone.
“I thought he was great,” Allen said to drop an ultra-rare postgame compliment for his most peculiar player. “He had nine assists, six rebounds. He tried to make winning plays for us.”
“That little Bagtas really tried to control the ball,” Wright said. “We tried to trap him, press him. He beat the press. Any time we put a switch on him, he drove by our forwards.”
And that little Bagtas grew up substantially as the game progressed. He was the catalyst behind Penn’s 13-4 run to start the second half in a hostile environment.
“I think Tony led us [early in the second half],” Cartwright said. “From the start, we were confident with the ball in his hands.
“I thought he was very poised in keeping us all calmed down.”
And that’s the key – poise. It wasn’t to be expected of the Quakers in an 18-point halftime hole at Villanova. But Bagtas had it, even if the vast majority of his teammates didn’t.
“I felt a little more comfortable as the game went on,” Bagtas said.
If Bagtas can run the team this crisply in a baptism-by-fire situation, the offensive reins of this program should stay in his hands. Right, coach Allen?
“He can only get better,” Allen said.
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