Penn coach Steve Donahue knows the time is coming when all the big plans he’s had for this season will come to a head.
There’s just one nonconference game to go, at Howard on Dec. 30, before Princeton comes to the Palestra on Jan 4. to start Ivy League play. The Quakers are 6-4, with three of the wins coming over Alabama, Providence, and Central Florida (and two of the losses coming at Rice and Lafayette).
Donahue’s team was picked second in the Ivy League preseason poll, and from the sound of things, he wouldn’t mind if the Princeton game was tomorrow.
“In some ways, I think we’ve got a chance to be as good as we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” he said after Saturday’s 105-57 win over Widener, a game that counted but was played like an exhibition. Penn scheduled the Division III opponent to shake off rust after a 17-day exam break.
“I like our team, I like our offense," Donahue said. “I sense a team that can score, a much deeper team [than last year’s], a much-better transition offensive team, and a team I think that can really start to guard similar to what we did over the last couple of years.”
A few key statistics make the point. Penn ranks 44th in Division I in effective field-goal percentage at 53.7%, and 80th in offensive efficiency with 105 points per 100 possessions.
Four of Donahue’s starters are set: guards Jordan Dingle, Devon Goodman, and Ryan Betley and star big man AJ Brodeur. Eddie Scott started all nine games before Saturday but only averaged 16 minutes per contest. Freshman Max Martz started against Widener and delivered 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting — including 5-of-8 from three-point range — in just under 21 minutes.
Coming into Saturday, Scott and Martz both averaged 16.6 minutes per game. Scott played 10 against Widener.
“Max has played really well over the last three weeks, and kind of deserves" to start, Donahue said. “His ability to compete on the glass, make shots when people help out on AJ — he’s just been really good.”
The Palestra crowd also saw freshman big man Max Lorca-Lloyd get his first real playing time. He had 6 points — including two big dunks — and 8 rebounds in 11 minutes.
Lorca-Lloyd is in line to be Brodeur’s successor in the paint, and the senior had high praise for his protege’s work in practice.
“He’s being asked to play such a tough role — a Steve Donahue 5-man is no easy task," Brodeur said. "Me and Jarrod [Simmons], the two rotation big men, we’re trying to incorporate him in practice, get him reps that he needs to get to where he’s going to need to be to take over that spot. But you can see with the athleticism, the length, he has all the intangibles that you don’t see too often in the Ivy League.”
Every player on the roster played Saturday except three who are injured. Reserve guard Ray Jerome did not dress because of a minor injury that he’s expected to return from soon; Jonah Charles is out with a broken foot; and Michael Wang has knee tendinitis that has ruled him out for the season.
Charles could be back in mid-January, Donahue said, and Wang, who is at home in China with his family, will have surgery when he returns to campus.