After winning 25 consecutive Big 5 contests over more than six years worth of games, the ‘Cats could not once again overcome the sloppiness that has defined much of their non-conference play this young season and lost to the Penn Quakers, 78-75.
The ‘Cats started slow, as they have even in most of their wins so far this season, and went behind double digits to the Quakers early, 14-2 at the 12:28 mark. Although this early gap between the two teams would barely last to midway through the first half, the Quakers showed in this early stretch how their well-rounded scoring and team basketball posed a serious threat to the less well-oiled Wildcats effort. Guards Devon Goodman, Bryce Washington, and forward AJ Brodeur all contributed two buckets to the Quakers’ opening 14-point run, which was indicative to how the Quakers offense punished the ‘Cats throughout the game, as they finished with five different players scoring double-digits and 25 points off the bench. In comparison, the ‘Cats had four players finish with a double-digit scoring output, which isn’t terrible, but Jay Wright’s bench scored a measly 11 points. This number, as well as foul trouble, was the ‘Cats main downfall tonight. Although Wright’s over-reliance on his veterans and starters deserves its fair share of criticism, the starters other than Phil Booth(6-15 shooting) played efficient offensive basketball.
Although the bench was quiet overall and Booth threw up a goose egg on four shots before the break, solid defensive play after that first run and scoring from Saddiq Bey, Joe Cremo, Eric Paschall, and Collin Gillespie, who led the ‘Cats in scoring overall with 21 points(on only 4-5 shooting!!), allowed Wright and the ‘Cats to go into the locker room at the Palestra down only four, 32-28.
Out of the break, the ‘Cats found trouble from two sources: their defense looked like it got Thanos snapped and allowed 46 second half points; and the bench’s production went from quiet to anemic, putting up only two points in the entire second half through one Jermaine Samuels dunk. The starters offensively actually played pretty competently again in the second half, and even Booth recovered from his bad first half to record 18 second half points on 6-11 shooting. But in putting so much focus on his veterans and starters, Wright refused to experiment at all with his bench, playing only three reserves for more than a few seconds(Jahvon Quinerly made an odd late defensive cameo, only to get pulled for the last gasp buzzer beater attempt). Quinerly and even better milk carton candidate Brandon Slater again were not trusted to prove they can make an impact. Not to mention, even among the reserves who made it into the game, none could overcome the Booth show to take more than two shots in the second half. Cole Swider and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree each failed to shoot in the second period.
Even less characteristic of a Jay Wright team than players seeming hesitant to let shots go, once the defense was getting thoroughly shellacked in the second half(with Cosby-Roundtree also notably in foul trouble) Wright resorted to a zone defense.
Late in the half the ‘Cats, led by Bey and Gillespie with a bucket and two free throws each, almost came back from an 8-point deficit in the last six minutes, but they could never get the game within three points. After Booth sank a fast break three very late to cut the deficit to three and the ‘Cats got the ball back through great defense on the inbounds play, Booth’s ensuing desperation attempt came up short, as likely did the ‘Cats chances at a sixth straight Big 5 title.
The ‘Cats are back in action this Saturday at 12:00 against the #1 Kansas Jayhawks.