The Quakers played like themselves for three quarters. Unfortunately, they did not look anything like themselves in the fourth.
On Thursday night, Penn women’s basketball let another sizable lead slip in Big 5 play and fell to Temple by a 76-72 score.
The Quakers (10-4, 2-2 Big 5) were already riding a two-game losing streak after defeats to long-time foes, No. 25 Princeton and Villanova. However, if they had beaten the Owls (12-7, 3-1) on the road, the Red and Blue would have captured a share of the Big 5 title.
“I thought we were the better team [in] the first three quarters,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “I think [in] the fourth quarter they got some momentum, [we] couldn’t get a stop, and just lost a little bit of control of the game.
Both teams started the game off cold from beyond the arc, but Penn grabbed an early lead by ramping up its defensive intensity. Temple constantly looked to penetrate into the paint throughout the game, but the Quakers’ interior zone defense held strong, forcing the Owls into tough, contested shots.
On the other end of the court, junior center Eleah Parker seemed to have broken out of her offensive slump. Besides being her usual imposing self on defense, Parker was able to get into an offensive groove early on by hitting a couple of foul-line jumpers. She had eight points and seven rebounds in the first quarter alone.
With 4:15 to go, the Penn defense forced a shot-clock violation. This seemed to flip a switch for the Red and Blue, as they then went on a 12-0 run to end the quarter. That run was capped off by a three-point buzzer-beater by senior guard Phoebe Sterba, which gave the Red and Blue a 26-13 lead.
Penn continued to stand tall defensively in the second quarter, and could have run away with the game in the first half if not for the stellar play by Owls guard Marissa Mackins, who scored 11 of her team’s 13 points in the first quarter, and led all scorers at the half with 14 on 5-of-9 shooting.
The Owls would come out of the half to play with more purpose. Picking up the slack from Mackins was junior forward Mia Davis, who leads the Owls on the season with 19.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Mackins was quiet in the first half, but scored seven quick points in the third to cut Penn's lead to seven.
McLaughlin looked to his bench for a spark plug to energize the Red and Blue. He brought on junior guard Katie Kinum for freshman guard Kayla Padilla, who had an off night — eight points and 3-of-12 from the floor — after averaging 25 points from the last two games. In her 5:04 stint, Kinum recorded five points and two steals, and helped halt the Owls’ momentum to ensure that Penn would end the quarter with a 60-47 lead.
However, Temple, riding the energy of its crowd, went on an 11-1 run four minutes into the final quarter to cut Penn’s lead to three. A jumper from senior guard Kendall Grasela gave Penn some breathing room, but not before a three-pointer by guard Ashley Jones and an and-one layup by forward Alexa Williamson gave the Owls their first lead of the game at 64-63. Together with Davis, the trio combined for 22 points in the quarter.
Penn tried to rally behind some strong low-post play from Parker, who finished the game with a double-double of 17 points and 13 boards. However, Davis was able to respond on the opposite end, and her layup plus the foul with 17.7 seconds to go essentially iced the game for the Owls. She had 20 points — 14 in the second half — and 14 rebounds on the night.
Besides Parker, Grasela and junior forward Tori Crawford both had good outings. Grasela poured in 15 points and a team-high seven assists, whereas Crawford chipped in with 11 points and seven rebounds. However, their efforts were ultimately in vain.
A miserable fourth quarter where Penn was outscored 29-12 not only means the loss of a Big 5 title, but also a three-game losing streak as Ivy play resumes next week.
"I think we left one on the table tonight," McLaughlin said. "This one’s gonna sting for a while."
With the Quakers having lost its last three games, McLaughlin believes his team has what it takes to bounce back from its recent slump.
"They know how to play with noise … but sometimes emotionally it’s difficult," he said. "When teams are going on a run, I think we’ve got to mature a little bit as a group. Once we get into that moment, hopefully we’ll be better prepared for it."
Next weekend’s tough away games at Harvard and Dartmouth will give the team the perfect opportunity to right its ship.