In a tight road game, all that matters is coming out with the win. Now that they have, the Quakers have a lot of questions to answer about why it was so close.
With a win on the road at Siena, Penn women’s basketball started off the season on the right foot after a disappointing end last March. Beating the Saints by a comfortable 58-51 margin, the box score might not indicate how exciting this game was, down to the very last minute.
The Quakers (1-0) came out on a tear, finishing the first quarter with a five-point lead. The Red and Blue forced four Siena turnovers and got early production both from their outside shooters and in the paint. Siena briefly led early in the first quarter, but Penn didn’t relinquish its advantage until late in the fourth.
"We definitely want to be in the plus when it comes to turnovers," coach Mike McLaughlin said. "We put a lot of pressure on the ball, we were in and out of the zone, we had a good trap a few times in the zone. I did like the tempo and the pace for us; I thought we really, the last three possessions were probably our best."
For Quaker fans, the first half of the game was probably comforting. The Penn brand of inside-out basketball that features excellent passing from the guards to the bigs and getting support from perimeter sharpshooters was very much present.
The only difference was the people doing it. Sophomore Michae Jones had six assists in the first game following the departure of all-time assists leader Anna Ross, while the frontcourt duo saw sophomore center Eleah Parker and senior forward Princess Aghayere shouldering the offensive load instead of Parker and Nwokedi. Junior guard Phoebe Sterba was doing her best Lauren Whitlatch impersonation, scoring 12 of her 16 points from beyond the arc as the top scorer on the Quakers.
"Phoebe Sterba played a role last year, her role will grow dramatically and increase this year. We played a similar style, we had the two post players with Michelle Nwokedi, and had some perimeter players who could shoot the three," McLaughlin said. "Not much different this year, Eleah's still here, Phoebe replaces Lauren in that role. Phoebe's completely ready for this role, this is someone that really sacrificed herself a little bit last year not playing as much as she wanted to, … so I think she's definitely ready for a chance."
Parker, unsurprisingly, dominated in the post for much of the game. She repeatedly showed the Siena defense that she was a threat to shoot mid-range jumpers, which only served to increase her impact around the rim. She finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and two blocks.
All of the bigs on the Quakers played well, and sophomore forward Tori Crawford showed flashes, especially in her ability to get to the foul line. She put up seven points in only 12 minutes off the bench. The biggest help, though, came from Crawford and senior guard Ashley Russell on the glass, who each had four offensive rebounds. The Quakers beat the Saints on the offensive glass 17 to 10, which played a huge role in such a tight contest.
At times it looked like Penn, who was the better team for most of the contest, might not come out with a win. Although the team led for nearly the entire game, it had difficulty building on the lead and let Siena hang around waiting to strike. But then, something shifted.
"Putting the emphasis on defense, focusing on angles," Parker said. "We made an adjustment on defense and we wanted to just focus on trying to get shots and then turning it into offense. … We were up for the majority of the time, especially towards the end so definitely trying to use the clock, especially when it started to come down to under a minute or the last few seconds."
The game ended with less drama than one might think given how close it got with only a few minutes to go – an improvement on defense and lights-out free throw shooting down the stretch gave the Red and Blue a slim lead which they carried into the end of the game.
Despite the production of the underclassmen, the Quakers still have a lot of questions to answer after this game; getting a win on the road is always a good thing, but they struggled at times defensively down the stretch.
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