It took a little while for Penn men's basketball to heat up at Howard. But once they did, the Quakers caught fire.
Penn used an absolutely dominant stretch at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half to erase a slow start and build an insurmountable lead en route to an 81-68 victory over Howard.
The star of the night for the Red and Blue (6-4) was undoubtedly senior guard Caleb Wood. The Reno, Nevada native led the Quakers with a career-high 26 points, including six three-pointers. Wood is averaging 8.7 points per game this season, up from 5.9 last year, and has provided a spark for Penn's offense on multiple occasions this year.
"Shooting has been our Achilles' heel at the start here, and he's a kid that can make shots," coach Steve Donahue said of Wood, who is shooting a stellar 45.7 percent form three-point range this season. "I thought he really guarded tonight well, and obviously, we needed every one of his points for a stretch there I thought gave us a big boost."
To say Penn started the game slowly would be an understatement. For the 12 minutes of the game, the Quakers shot a paltry 20 percent from the field, including just 2-for-12 from beyond the arc.
The poor shooting, coupled with a quick start from Howard (1-8), allowed the Bison to jump out to a 25-14 lead.
Part of the reason for that slow start was a suffocating Howard defense. Unlike many of the teams that Penn faces, the Bison used a zone defense, which requires its players to constantly be shifting around. Donahue thought they were especially effective at doing so early on.
"I thought their zone was really active," he said. "They played a 3-2, extended. They did a great job of jumping into the passing lanes, really disrupted us for a while."
But after that opening stretch, Penn looked like a completely different team. The Quakers started to adjust to the zone defense, and strong ball movement created open looks. Buoyed by a 18-3 run at the end of the half, including the final 10 points, Penn entered the break with a four-point lead.
"They got used to it, they got a little more poised," Donahue said. "I thought we started spacing better, cutting better, and just being more poised, not letting it disrupt you."
The Red and Blue started the second half just like they ended the first, scoring in droves and creating a sizable lead. At one point, Penn used a 16-0 run to open up a 20-point lead, its largest of the night. Again, the key was ball movement: the Quakers had 20 assists on just 27 baskets, their third highest total of the year.
While Howard was able to bring Penn's lead to single digits near the end of the game, the Bison never really threatened to overtake the Quakers.
Penn continues its busy non-conference slate with a visit to Lafayette on Wednesday, and if it can play anything like it did in the middle of game, it should have no problem finding more success.