The stars shined, but it wasn’t enough for Penn women’s basketball.
Seniors Anna Ross, Michelle Nwokedi and Lauren Whitlatch all hit double figures, but the Quakers fell to Binghamton, 77-72, in their season opener.
Penn (0-1) jumped out to an early lead thanks mostly to the play of Ross. The point guard scored the Quakers’ first 10 points on the way to a 17-3 lead seven minutes into the game. She would finish the game with 21 points to go along with her game-high five assists. Ross didn’t miss a shot until the Quakers were already up by 14.
“We started the game off really well. I really liked what we did out of the gate. I think in the second quarter and as the game went on, we just lost a little bit of a flow in the offensive end,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “But give [Binghamton] credit, their offense was very good.”
Binghamton (2-1) never flinched, clawing its way back to within seven at the end of the first quarter. The Red and Blue simply couldn’t sustain their torrid pace from the first seven minutes. Once their shooting cooled down, Binghamton outscored the Quakers in each of the remaining three quarters.
Penn’s defense struggled to stop Binghamton’s Imani Watkins. A year after torching Penn for 26 points at the Palestra, the guard again punished the Quakers from deep, making five three-pointers on the night to finish with 27 points.
McLaughlin suggested that the team defense was a concern. In the first quarter, the Quakers were able to hurt Binghamton using a full-court press, but once they started missing shots, there wasn’t much of a chance to set it up. The Bearcats were able to force turnovers, allowing them to push the tempo before the Quakers could set up their defense.
The other major problem for the Quakers was rebounding. Without the now-graduated Sydney Stipanovich dominating the paint, the Quakers struggled to win battles at the rim. While the Bearcats won the rebounding battle 48-43, the real damage was done on the offensive glass. Binghamton ended the game with 22 offensive rebounds, leading to numerous second-chance opportunities.
"Frankly, they just had the ball too many times,” McLaughlin said. “[Rebounding] is a combination of both the forwards and the guards. We have to compete in the rebounding areas much better. It’s a team responsibility and we came up a little short there.”
Penn, despite emptying out the bench in the first half – junior Ashley Russell and highly-touted freshman Eleah Parker saw their first career starts, while 10 total players saw the floor – had very little parity in scoring. Other than Ross, Nwokedi and Whitlatch, the other seven Quakers scored a combined 21 points, and only nine came from the bench.
Despite the loss, there seemed to be little concern from either McLaughlin or Ross.
“Looking forward, we need to get a little more practice in and we’ll be good to go,” Ross said. “We’ll be going back to the basics: boxing out and pushing the ball up the floor. I think just working on those two things will be key for a win on Saturday.”
On Saturday, Penn will play in the Palestra for the first time since it won the Ivy League tournament at home last season. The Quakers will host Lafayette (0-2), in another test of team rebounding. Lafayette’s leading scorer and rebounder, freshman Natalie Kucowski, is averaging a double-double through two games.
“I’m excited. [Raising the banner] is something we’re looking forward to. Hopefully, it’s a great night not just for the celebration but overall,” McLaughlin said.