The season is only eight games old, but a frustrating reality about watching Penn basketball’s games has already become clear.
It’s a lot like playing the world’s worst game of Whack-A-Mole.
See, once coach Jerome Allen fixes a problem that’s plagued his team and led to losses in winnable games, another one pops up almost instantaneously.
For weeks, rebounding had killed the Quakers. That wasn’t the issue against Wagner tonight, as the Red and Blue outrebounded the Seahawks by a 44-42 margin and collected 16 offensive boards.
Penn’s new bugaboo is a drastically inefficient offense, which simply imploded down the stretch and helped sink the Quakers’ efforts in a 75-69 overtime loss that, quite frankly, should have been a win.
The culprits on the offensive end are numerous.
Senior guard Miles Cartwright placed himself in the one spot he couldn’t help his team: the bench. Cartwright fouled out with 4:45 to go after an ugly stretch in which he bricked two free throws after a flagrant foul and then committed an offensive foul on the ensuing inbounds pass
Sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry couldn’t manage to take advantage after Wagner’s tallest player, 6-foot-11 forward Naofall Folahan, fouled out. Nelson-Henry, 6-foot-11 in his own right, only hit two of his seven shots from the field on the night.
And, perhaps most distressingly, the edition of Tony Hicks that lit up Niagara for 33 points just two weeks ago has gone missing. The sophomore guard completely melted down in the face of pressure from Wagner’s guards, hitting only three of 16 mostly contested shots.
But Hicks’ meltdown went far beyond his shooting. He got called for a technical foul after a tie-up in the second half and could easily have been ejected after he shoved Wagner guard Jay Harris into the press table on an inbounds play long after the game had been decided in overtime.
“I think it’s my job to help [Hicks], to put him in situations where he can use his skill set offensively,” Allen said. “I’m going to go and watch film and try to figure out how I can move him around to best serve this group.”
Freshman point guard Tony Bagtas looked impressive as a distributor in his first two starts, but even he had his struggles — ones that are to be expected given his youth — perhaps most noticeably when he lost the handle on what could have been a game-winning possession in regulation with less than five seconds to play.
Allen has to find a way to build a cohesive offensive unit around Bagtas, one that can get out of its own way and make solid decisions to take pressure off the freshman, especially with three tough road games looming.
“Something we talked about at the end of the game is … just having the right approach to competing at the Division I level and enough focus about you to cover the details,” Allen said.
“Something has to change.”
Penn has too much talent on the offensive end of the floor to expect to shoot 20-for-61 on a given evening. It has too much talent to turn the ball over 23 times. It has too much talent to not take advantage of an opponent having more fouls in the first half (12) than made field goals (seven).
But that’s what Penn did Saturday night against Wagner.
Unless Allen can find a way to whack this “mole” down and make sure it stays down, more problems are going to pop up.
And it’ll be game over in Ivy play if the trend continues.
IAN WENIK is a junior history major from Short Hills, N.J. and is a sports editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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