Sometimes the bunnies just don’t bounce your way.
In a game as tight as Penn men’s basketball’s 75-71 double-overtime loss to La Salle, one bounce the Quakers’ way would have won them the game.
“Tonight, we were inconsistent around the rim. I thought we had a lot of bunnies we missed tonight,” coach Steve Donahue said.
The “bunnies” Donahue was referring to were the large number of inside shots missed by the Quakers (0-2, 0-1 Big 5). There were roughly 20 semi-contested five-to-ten footers missed by the Red and Blue. Not all of them were easy shots, but all it would have taken to flip the outcome of this tight Big 5 matchup was for one of them to fall.
The biggest missed bunnies came as regulation and the first overtime expired. In a 50-50 tie with three seconds left in regulation, junior guard Antonio Woods drove to the bucket. After making a great play to beat the defender and give himself a chance at the rim, Woods’ layup spun around and out. By the time La Salle gathered the rebound, time had expired.
Almost an identical play happened at the close of the first overtime period. This time it was senior Darnell Foreman who drove to the hoop. Foreman’s layup bounced around before being gathered by La Salle (2-0, 1-0), allowing the Explorers to attempt a buzzer-beating three.
If either one of those bunnies fell for the Quakers, Penn would have won its home opener — against a higher-ranked Big 5 rival to boot.
Those types of shots were a recurring problem for Penn all night long. With the La Salle defense focused on stopping dynamic sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley, the remaining three players, most often center Max Rothschild, Foreman, and Woods, earned a lot of open looks inside. The three just struggled to finish them consistently.
The main beneficiary of the Brodeur double-teams was Rothschild. As a result, Rothschild attempted 19 shots, a career-high. Out of those 19, Rothschild only sank six. If teams continue to double Brodeur, which they likely will, the Quakers will have to rely on Rothschild.
“I didn’t take very many shots in the last game, so I’m trying to be more aggressive,” Rothschild said. “I’ll take the shots I can get, and I should make a few more of those. I’ve just got to stay poised in the paint”
Besides Rothschild, the other solution to the problem of the Brodeur double team is making more shots from deep. Like in the Fairfield game, the Quakers struggled from beyond the arc, shooting a lowly 25 percent. Again, Caleb Wood was the lone exception, making three of five from distance.
“I’m not happy with the way we’ve played offense in these two games, and our inability to consistently shoot from outside,” Donahue said. “If you look at the foul line, they won the game on the foul line. Darnell Foreman is a very good foul shooter, he just didn’t shoot them tonight.”
While Brodeur and Rothschild made all their crucial free throws late in the game, it was the guards who faltered. Foreman, who had several trips to the line in the second overtime, ended the game 5-for-10 from the stripe. Penn finished the game shooting just 64 percent on free throws, to La Salle's 81 percent.
Those negatives aside, the Quakers established themselves as a deep team with a lot of talent, particularly at guard. Nine players, including two freshmen, got into the game within the first ten minutes. That being said, it seemed like Donahue knew who to turn to with the game on the line, sticking with the starting five for the last ten minutes of regulation and the entire first overtime.
The defense was another bright spot. The Quakers held La Salle to just 50 points in regulation, and forced 17 La Salle turnovers. Three different players ended with three steals.
The heartbreaking result aside, the loss showed the Quakers exactly where they stand and what they need to work on.
The bounces should even out in the meantime.
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