The Quakers were aggressive and effective all night on the defensive end; it was only a matter of time before the offense followed suit.
After a tough home loss to Villanova in which the Wildcats secured a Big 5 title, Penn looked to finish off its Big 5 schedule on a high note against Temple at the Palestra on Wednesday. The Red and Blue did just that, beating the Owls, 71-62, in a game in which they never trailed.
“When [this coaching staff] first entered Penn, we didn’t win in the Big 5 for the first seven or eight years, period,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I want them to celebrate again. The two other times we won the Big 5, we were 3-1, and that's what we were again today. This [win] is a lot to celebrate for them.”
In the first quarter, the Quakers (10-3, 3-1 Big 5) wasted no time feeling their way into the game. They forced turnovers on Temple’s first two possessions and converted on the other end to take an early 6-0 lead.
After stumbling at first, the Owls (4-14, 2-2) slowly adjusted to Penn’s unrelenting press and stingy zone defense to knock down a few short jumpers from the paint. Nevertheless, the Red and Blue maintained their defensive intensity and disrupted Temple’s offensive rhythm to end the first quarter with two blocks, two steals, and three forced turnovers to open up a 19-12 lead.
The second quarter saw both teams play even, back-and-forth basketball. Temple began to heat up from beyond the arc to tie the game at 21 points apiece, but the Quakers responded with an 8-0 run of their own – five points of which came at the hands of senior guard Ashley Russell – to take a 31-23 lead. After a buzzer-beater from sophomore center Eleah Parker, Penn entered halftime with a 35-27 lead.
Parker opened up the second half with a score after the Red and Blue forced another turnover on the Owls’ opening possession, and the Quakers never looked back. The third quarter was an offensive onslaught for Penn, pouring in 29 points during the 10-minute period. The quarter ended on another exciting note when sophomore guard Michae Jones beat the buzzer to give the Red and Blue a 64-46 advantage.
“I think we made shots; I think we had some timely threes in transition. I think Eleah had a couple putbacks. I thought we spread it out really well,” McLaughlin said. “I just liked how we came out of the locker room. We picked up where we left off in the second quarter and carried it over to the third. I loved our third quarter, defensively and offensively.”
In the final frame, Temple made every effort to dig its way back into the game, but could do no more than to cut the Quakers' lead to nine points with less than two minutes remaining. Penn held on for a victory, which gave the program its best start through 13 games since its 2015-16 Ivy League title-winning season.
The Red and Blue received strong performances from a number of players on the night, but none was more impressive than Russell, who was all over the stat sheet and threatened a triple-double. She contributed 18 points in addition to nine rebounds and seven assists.
“I kind of just let the game come,” Russell said. “If I’m hitting my shots, I feel more comfortable and, honestly, the confidence flows. I don’t really notice assists or anything, I just hit whomever’s open and I go after every board.”
Despite a sluggish fourth quarter, Wednesday’s win was a strong one for Penn. The Quakers will look to continue their winning ways when they take on Haverford at the Palestra on Jan. 27.
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