They weathered the storm, and they came out with their first Big 5 win in over 22 months.
Penn women’s basketball ended its semester on Monday night with a tough trip to Saint Joseph’s, escaping with a 57-50 win to kick off a brief 11-day break.
It was looking relatively secure for the Quakers (3-4, 1-1 Big 5) entering the fourth quarter, as a strong third frame had put them up 45-34 with ten minutes left. Nine unanswered points by the Hawks (5-4, 0-3) over the next four minutes put the game on a knife’s edge, however, and it was unclear which way the contest would fall during a timeout called by Penn coach Mike McLaughlin to stop the bleeding.
“What I really liked was that we stayed composed,” McLaughlin reflected. “We’ve been in those situations before, where we try to rush out there and score real quick, but lose our discipline on the defensive end. I thought we showed good progress with where we are in that moment.”
The Quakers scored their first bucket of the fourth quarter with less than five minutes left, but they didn’t look back from that moment on. Dominant paint play in the ensuing minutes by senior captain Michelle Nwokedi and rookie Eleah Parker restored Penn’s lead to nine at 52-43, forcing the Hawks to rush shots and ultimately fall apart under the pressure.
Nwokedi and Parker ran the show all night for the Red and Blue. In total, the senior-freshman duo combined for 29 of Penn’s 57 points, six of seven total steals, and all six blocks.
McLaughlin praised the two for coming together and building off each other, especially as Parker continues to grow individually and adapt to the team’s system.
“Statistics-wise on the offensive end, they were as efficient as you can be,” he said. “Defensively, they were the best since they’ve been together, and that shows you how much progress Eleah is making. She’s improved so much in just two weeks on the defensive side.”
In the final minutes, Saint Joseph’s was forced to foul Penn, and the visiting team converted its opportunities to take its first Big 5 win since Jan. 21, 2016 — almost two years ago.
While the Quakers have only lost five Big 5 contests in the meantime, the long draught was not overlooked by McLaughlin after the game.
“Huge,” was the one word out of the coach’s mouth to describe the win’s significance. “Since we’ve been here, you’ve never wanted St. Joe’s. That was only the second time we’ve won [out of eight years]. But we deserved it.”
Penn now enters a short break while the student-athletes focus on finals instead. Shortly after finals are over, though, the Quakers will face a test in hosting Rhode Island, which is riding high after a 15-point victory over Fairfield, also on Monday night.
Just beyond Rhode Island, only two other games lie between Penn and Ivy League play. After this brief break from action, the thick of the season waits in the wings.
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