NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — When one team treats a game like it’s preseason and the other treats it like the regular season, you’re going to see a result like the one Penn had on Monday night at Iona.
In their first game of the season, the Quakers led 17-11 midway through the first half, but the Gaels sped out to a 37-4 run and ran away with the game, finishing ahead 78-50. A 28-point loss doesn’t sound like a sexy start to the season, but hearing the two coaches talk postgame demonstrated exactly why the final score appeared the way it did.
Iona is hoping to win the MAAC, but it’s also aiming for an at-large bid, according to Gaels coach — and college basketball legend — Rick Pitino. As such, Iona treated its opening-night contest with a sense of urgency Penn didn’t have. Five Gaels reached 25 minutes on the floor, while Penn only had one.
Iona senior forward Quinn Slazinski even said that Pitino came to practice in July talking about the schemes Penn would run on offense that they’d have to defend against. I’d be surprised if the Quakers discussed Iona specifically until last week.
As Penn coach Steve Donahue mentioned before the season, November and December largely serve as an opportunity for Penn to figure out its lineup ahead of Ivy League play, and he was no less emphatic about that fact Monday night. Only senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd reached 25 minutes, while 10 Quakers played double-digit minutes.
As Penn toys with its rotation, more results like at Iona may be in store, with the Quakers set to face Missouri of the SEC on Friday and Big 12 powerhouse West Virginia next week.
But in trying out different guys, there were some bright spots from Penn’s 28-point loss. Back from injury, Lorca-Lloyd played in his first game since last November and looked impressive, leading the Quakers in rebounds with 14 — a career-high — and blocks (three).
Last season, one of Penn’s main issues was the lack of a consistent big manning the middle. Senior forward Michael Moshkovitz stepped into the role, but at 6-foot-7, his abilities were limited. In Lorca-Lloyd, the Quakers add a defensive piece that can finally intimidate opposing players around the rim, which seemed to happen Monday night.
And after playing just 21 minutes across all of last season, guard/forward Ed Holland III spent 15:54 on the hardwood and had one of the best performances of anyone on the team. The sophomore scored nine points on 3-4 shooting, chipped in four rebounds, and had the only positive plus/minus of any Quaker that played double-digit minutes.
Outside of those two guys, though, not much else went right for Penn. From deep, the Quakers shot an abysmal 3-25, with junior guards Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert alone combining for 0-13. The Quakers were also careless offensively, amassing 18 turnovers to Iona’s five.
Both issues are fixable. But if either starts to become a trend, more results like Monday will become the norm.
Of course, you have to give Iona a lot of credit. Postgame, one of its players said that the Gaels are “100% Coach P’s team,” with Pitino having hand-picked each player, and it shows. Plus, maybe it was evident on the broadcast, but Iona’s arena is an incredibly difficult place to play. It's a small venue packed by a massive contingent of students that showed up 45 minutes to tip-off, and clearly had some level of basketball knowledge.
Put it this way: Out of all the players and coaches mentioned during the pregame introductions, Pitino got the loudest ovation, and rightly so. The man's coached two (if you count the vacated one) title teams. If Pitino came to Penn, most students would probably confuse him with Al Pacino.
(Side note: Listening to Pitino go off in the postgame press conference about the NCAA’s treatment of him over the last five years with his recruiting scandal was easily the most surreal moment of my DP career.)
Anyways, tangent aside, Penn’s 28-point loss to Iona was ugly. You’re not going to win many games when the opposing team goes on a 37-4 run. But if fans have a little patience, the positives from this game — combined with the maturity of an experienced roster — should manifest when it counts.
MATTHEW FRANK is a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College junior from Miami studying English. He can be reached at email@example.com.