This isn’t a new Penn basketball.
A win over Dartmouth isn’t a game that changes a program, just like a nonconference game against St. Joseph’s isn’t going to make the difference in the scheme of things.
Yet watching the Red and Blue hold on for a single-digit victory against a tough Dartmouth squad (which just beat Harvard in Cambridge, by the way) is something that wouldn’t have happened either of the last two seasons.
How do I know that? Because Penn lost two games of the same ilk each of the last seasons against Dartmouth squads that weren’t as good as this one. In both 2013 and 2014, the Quakers fell to the Big Green in close games where they couldn’t close out at the end, particularly on now-junior guard Alex Mitola.
In that regard, this game was won by a game plan superior to the opponents, something that most critics have downright torched coach Jerome Allen on for years. Allen isn’t one to take credit for a victory – sporting a modesty desirable in any head coach – but this one, particularly considering the number of turnovers and off nights from key players, was one of his better performances.
You may find yourself asking, ‘But wait a minute, why would the turnovers and off nights be something that would accentuate the victory and not diminish it? Aren’t those marks of bad coaching?’
Quite to the contrary, those are marks of an incredibly young team and Dartmouth’s success on defense in limiting Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry. Both of those players can win games for Penn when playing at their best, yet in a game where neither was at their best, combining for eight fouls and just 11 points, Penn still won.
Back to that game plan, the Quakers dedicated themselves to stopping Mitola, someone who can, just like Hicks and Nelson-Henry, win games by his lonesome when he’s on.
“We talked about everyone knowing their objective and staying locked in to their defensive assignments,” Allen said. “It was going to take an overall group effort, not necessarily to stop [Mitola] but whatever they were trying to accomplish offensively.”
“Antonio Woods did a tremendous job of being there on the catch and fighting over screens but when they got the ball screens, our bigs were there to string it out and when their bigs rolled, we had weak side help.”
As Allen said, Woods’ standout effort was certainly notable, rendering Mitola useless for much of the game by sticking on him like a sleeve. Woods, starting for the second straight game and playing a team-high 37 minutes, didn’t score every point for Penn, but his defensive effort on Dartmouth’s top guard was just as good as a top notch scoring night.
However, Penn didn’t win the game with Woods on Mitola. With under a minute to go and Dartmouth down three, Woods had to occupy Malik Gill after Gill torched the Quakers for 15 second half points. Instead, it was Hicks who drew the assignment on Mitola, fighting through a ball screen while Penn’s big men, as they did all night, prevented a pick and roll.
And it worked. Gill couldn’t hit a trey against Woods while Mitola found nothing open. On the other end, Woods did the dirty work, hitting a floater late in the shot clock before sealing the victory with a steal.
Individual improvements from guys like Woods and Greg Louis (10 points on just 4-for-5 shooting) and Matt Howard (18 points despite throwing up at halftime) were necessities for this Quakers team to compete and win Ivy games, particularly when Hicks and Nelson-Henry are limited, and tonight was the epitome of those individual improvements.
Yes, turnovers are still an issue. The Red and Blue will face a tougher defense in Harvard on Saturday and can’t afford to have nearly 25 percent of their possessions end in giveaways.
But this team isn’t last year’s team. It isn’t the same team as two years ago. That doesn’t mean it is a new Penn basketball, just an improving one. It also doesn’t mean this team is destined for Ivy greatness.
But it means that with the game on the line and Alex Mitola in possession of the ball, it wasn’t Dartmouth celebrating a win: It was Penn and that’s something to hang your hat on, at least for one day.
Steven Tydings is a Wharton junior from Hopewell, N.J. He is the Senior Sports Editor Emeritus of the Daily Pennsylvanian. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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