Desperation isn’t always a bad thing.
As Penn men’s basketball prepares to close out Big 5 play in a matchup with Temple this Saturday, the energy feels different around the Palestra. Having dropped three consecutive games, including two against Princeton, there is a renewed sense of urgency for the Quakers (7-7, 1-2 Big 5) as they prepare to take the court for the final time before Ivy season hits full swing.
“Every week has been ramping up more and more with the amount of desperation that we have,” senior forward AJ Brodeur said. “Desperation seems like a negative word, but it's really a level of passion [that] shows how much we care. Ramping up the intensity at practice has been a focus for us.”
After dropping back-to-back games to Princeton to end break, the Quakers once again fell in a down-to-the-wire defeat last weekend to a now 4-15 Saint Joseph's team. While the Red and Blue were able to break out of their offensive slump, scoring 81 points in the loss, the results stayed the same, showing that there was not one individual issue contributing to the team's struggles.
“I think there’s been a bunch of little things,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Settling for shots that we didn’t earlier … guarding the ball better so we don’t need to help as much overall, just feeling more confident and competitive. All those little things add up to why we haven’t won.”
If you were to pinpoint to an area where the team has come up short, the three-point line would be a good place to start. Poor three-point shooting has been especially prevalent in the recent losing streak, where the team has shot just 15-of-78 from beyond the arc, good for a percentage of 19.2%.
“The eight games in between [the first three and the last three], our three-point shooting was best in the country. Those eight games we shot 12.4 [threes per game] at 40%,” Donahue said. “We are 12th in the country in two-point percentage. That has a lot to do with your threat of shooting it, so it is important."
Another area where the team has struggled is on the glass. In each of the three games in the losing streak, Penn has been outrebounded, and the Red and Blue will be challenged once again on the glass by the Owls (10-8, 2-0), who rank inside the top 50 in the nation in rebounds per game.
“They have great length basically at every position,” Donahue said. “They are polished scorers and confident basketball players.”
Despite the disappointing loss to St. Joe’s, the Quakers did find a bright spot in the play of senior guard Ray Jerome, who shattered his career high with 34 minutes and contributed a solid effort on both ends of the floor.
“We have a unique team where we have three seniors and a lot of inexperienced guys,” Donahue said. “I think [Jerome] has been consistent in practice over the last month and a half. He understands what we are trying to do on offense and defense."
If Jerome indeed gets a start in the backcourt, he will be tasked with slowing down Temple's formidable duo of guards in Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis. Rose is especially dangerous; standing at 6-foot-8, the guard leads the Owls with 14.4 points per game.
“Temple brings a lot of athleticism and a pedigree of excellence,” Brodeur said.
Despite having nearly an entire Ivy season left to play, this contest marks the beginning of the end for the senior class, as the matchup against Temple will be the final Big 5 game for a group that was largely responsible for the team's Big 5 title last season.
“[The Big 5] has meant a lot to me. Those are always our most attended games at the Palestra every year,” Brodeur said. “Earlier this year we played Arizona and Alabama, we play teams like that all the time, but the games in the Palestra against Big 5 teams are an atmosphere that I’ve never experienced before.”
While Penn men’s basketball may be desperate, they will take the court against Temple on Saturday in an attempt to prove that they have used their renewed energy to get back on track.