It's not how you start that counts, it's how you finish. Penn women's basketball learned that the hard way tonight.
In the first Big 5 matchup of the season, the Quakers fell to La Salle by the score of 66-59. Despite an electric first quarter, Penn (2-3) fail to keep up the momentum for the rest of the game, allowing the Explorers (4-3) to fight back, and eventually take the lead for good.
The Quakers' initial domination began before the opening tip. In a rare occurrence, La Salle was issued a pre-game administrative technical foul. This led to the odd scene of senior guard Anna Ross making two free throws before the opening tip.
But it didn't stop there. As soon as the ball tipped off, Penn went to work. The Red and Blue scored the first nine points of the game in just 67 seconds, and stingy defense caused the Explorers to commit seven first quarter turnovers. All told, Penn left the first frame with a 23-10 lead.
"We started off great," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "The ball went in the basket, we had a lot of juice."
But that sizable lead vanished in the second quarter as the course of the game changed entirely.
After calling a loose first quarter, the referees begin to crack down on both teams, calling a much tighter, foul heavy game. The Quakers racked up nine personal fouls in the quarter, which caused them to stop playing so physically on defense.
Moreover, Penn's offensive efficiency just disappeared. The Quakers committed six turnovers in the quarter, and after shooting 43% in the first quarter, struggled to shoot from the field for the rest of the night.
Combined, these gave La Salle plenty of opportunities, especially down low, to claw its way back into the game. Trays from Ross and sophomore Ashley Russell helped stop the bleeding, but the Explorers trimmed the lead to just three at half time.
"We just never recovered the right way," McLaughlin said. "I have to look back at it a little bit, but from that first quarter on, the shooting percentage, they were getting in the gaps of our defense, we just didn't play good defense at the level that we need to do."
The poor trends for the Red and Blue only continued in the second half. The Quakers mustered just 24 second half points on just 27% shooting, while committing eight turnovers. Much of the offensive struggle came around the rim, as the Red and Blue missed several makeable layups and close jumpers.
Meanwhile, the Explorers caught fire, shooting 58% for the half. Some of that was due to good shooting, but a lot of it was due to La Salle finding the gaps in Penn's defense and the Quakers failing to adapt.
"I think any gap penetration we struggled," McLaughlin said. "Our post play, [we] didn't do a really good job... I think they got in the heart of our defense, and we just didn't do a very good job."
The third quarter featured some back and forth action as both offenses struggled. La Salle took the lead, but the Quakers took it right back with five point mini-run of their own. A three pointer from freshman Shaquana Edwards put La Salle back up top 43-42, giving them a lead they would not relinquish.
In the fourth quarter, La Salle pulled away for good. As the Explorers' offense continued to put up points, shooting a ridiculous 66% in the quarter, the Quakers just could not keep up. Every time Penn looked like they would fight its way back, La Salle drained another dagger.
After a busy stretch, the Red and Blue now have plenty of time to correct their problems from this game. They have more than a week off before they face off against No. 3 Notre Dame on December 9. And even longer still, the all-important Ivy games don't start until January.
So while this loss stings, the Quakers will take their time to learn from it, work out the kinks, and come back as a stronger team