Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Penn and Delaware both get somewhat of a measuring-stick game on Friday night when they face each other at the Bob Carpenter Center down in Newark, Del.
The two teams have already matched up once this season, back on Nov. 12 in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. That game, a 84-69 Delaware victory, was just the second game of the season for a pair of teams that were both working a number of new players into their rotations. Now, one day shy of six weeks later, Jerome Allen and Monté Ross get an interesting chance to see what, if anything, has changed about their teams.
“I think we are a different team and they’re obviously a different team than when we played them,” said Ross, in his seventh year at the helm of the Blue Hens.
The Quakers (2-7) are certainly evolving on an almost daily basis, with a rotation that’s seen three true freshman (Jamal Lewis, Darien Nelson-Henry and Tony Hicks) already play more than 100 minutes on the season as well as a number of previously-inexperienced sophomores and juniors get their first significant playing time as well.
Meanwhile, high-scoring guard Devon Saddler (20.5 ppg, 14th nationally) and double-double machine Jamelle Hagins (12.7 ppg, 12.1 rpg) had already established their roles with the Blue Hens (3-8) well prior to this season, but some of their teammates have made big strides since opening week. Minor injuries to Josh Brinkley and Jarvis Threatt have allowed freshmen Marvin King-Davis and Terrell Rogers, as well as St. Joseph’s transfer Carl Baptiste, to see more minutes and adjust to new surroundings.
Not that the teams can’t take some lessons away from that first matchup.
“I think we have a little bit of an understanding about what they’re trying to do,” Ross told CoBL by phone on Wednesday evening. “Our players have an understanding of the speed at which they run their offense, the precision with which they cut, so it helps to have done it.”
“Felt like Delaware, last time we played them, really came in and imposed their will on us,” Penn junior guard Miles Cartwright told CoBL before practice on Wednesday. “We’re going on the road and we don’t expect to get any calls or have a lot of support there, so we’re really excited to go out there and focus on us and show everybody what we’ve been working on during this break. I think we’re ready to have a better performance against them this time.”
If Penn is indeed going to get their first win away from the Palestra this season, they’re going to need to do a much better job on the boards. Delaware won the rebounding battle 46-21 in the first game, getting nine each from Brinkley and Baptiste, eight from Saddler and seven from Hagins–who played just 16 minutes before fouling out.
“I think we have to match their physicality, especially on the boards,” Allen said. “It’s ingrained in them–shot goes up, go get it–and we didn’t do a great job in competing in that aspect.”
“In every game that we go into, rebounding is something that we emphasize with our guys,” Ross said about a team that’s been out-rebounding opponents by about one missed shot per game. “We really want to hold teams to one shot and one shot only, so we really want to get on the defensive glass. And then when we shoot, we want our guys to aggressively go to the hole and get a second and third opportunity for us.”
It’s not much of a stretch to say that the Penn players know they have it in them to come away with the win. The Quakers led the Blue Hens, 31-30, with under four minutes to play in the first half. Delaware then went on a 32-7 run that spanned the next ten minutes; if not for going 2-for-13 with six turnovers during that stretch, Penn would have won the game.
“We felt like we let that game go early in the second half, they got off to that run right after halftime, we kinda lost the game right there,” Cartwright said. “we feel like we can do some good things against them and we feel like we can defend them pretty well also so we’re gonna do as much as we can, stick to our principles and hopefully we come out with a win.”
“I think what happened was they were a young team then, and we were able to get on a little run– we made a couple of shots, we got a couple of stops, and we were able to put some distance between ourselves,” Ross said. “We’re well aware that we did not put them away–we got up by as many as 24 and they cut that lead down to nine–so I give Jerome a lot of credit because he has those guys playing hard and they keep fighting and they’re going to continue to fight until the last second ticks off the clock.”
For Delaware, picked to finish second in the CAA, time is running short for Ross and company to get their feet under them; their conference slate starts in just over two weeks when they travel down to Old Domion and only Penn and Rider remain for the Blue Hens to figure out their offensive execution and some other issues.
“We really wanna be sharper on offense,” Ross said. “I think the other thing is our shot selection, we really wanna make sure that we are getting people in the right spots to take the shots that we would like them to shoot, and then the biggest thing is probably our turnovers. We turn the ball over entirely, entirely too much, and that’s one of the things we’ll have to cut down once we get into league play.”