St. Joe's hit a low Jan. 13 in a 27-point loss at Rhode Island. Since then, each effort has been better than the one before. As Phil Martelli's teams often do, this one is getting better in late January.
"To me, it all started that night in Rhode Island when I saw that look in their faces," Martelli said. "It was the first time that they looked and thought, 'You know what, coach? You gotta fix this . . . Please, we don't want to go through feeling like this, completely, really overwhelmed.' "
Now, they are feeling better.
"We're playing with more confidence, starting to believe in ourselves," Hawks senior Garrett Williamson said. "We got league play now. There are still opportunities in front of us."
Darrin Govens had 17 for the Hawks. Carl Jones had 14 of his 16 in the second half.
The game was played at St. Joe's 70-possession pace. Too many possessions simply will expose Penn's flaws.
"We just hit a dead spot on both ends," Penn interim coach Jerome Allen said. "Against Atlantic 10 teams, that's impossible [to overcome]."
It's all A-10 from here for St. Joe's, all Ivy League for Penn.
Penn (1-13, 0-4) was always playing uphill. St. Joe's can go 10 deep without much falloff. Penn cannot. Over time, that shows.
One thing is certain. Penn won't go 1-13 in the Ivy League. It did not show last night, but the Quakers are getting better. And the competition is about to get worse.
Penn starts its conference season this weekend at Yale and Brown. The next home game is not until Feb. 12. If the Quakers can get one or two on the road, a team that has been searching for confidence might finally get some.
"We still have an opportunity to reach the goals that we set in September," Allen told his team in the locker room. "It's a new season for us."
With 5 minutes left in the first half, Penn was matching St. Joe's shot for shot. It was 27-27. By halftime, it was 40-27. The Quakers' last nine possessions went turnover, miss, turnover, turnover, miss, turnover, miss, miss, turnover.
Penn began the second half the way it ended the first - turnover, three-pointer, miss, miss, turnover, turnover, turnover, miss. It was quickly 51-30 and over. Over 9 minutes, it was St. Joe's 24, Penn 3. That is a hard way to go. It got to 81-46.
The Hawks' defense was tilted hard in Zack Rosen's direction. The Quakers' sophomore point guard is having a terrific season, shooting nearly 50 percent from the arc in his previous nine games and averaging 17.3 points on the season. He is a scorer by necessity. His best attribute is his passing.
"The stuff that they're running takes a lot of time [to study]," Martelli said. "We had 1 day . . . so we decided to focus everything on Rosen."
Rosen attempted only two shots, scored eight points and agreed that it felt as if three or four guys were guarding him.
"A little bit," Rosen said. "They trapped every ball screen. We didn't expect it. They were all over the place."
Penn made 20 baskets and had 27 turnovers. That won't work. The turnovers led to runouts, and the more athletic team owned the court. Penn's turnovers led to 34 points. That won't work, either.
"I'm not being critical here, but they don't have 52 cards in their deck, with the injuries that they've had and the kids that have left," Martelli said.
Penn had been feeling a little better. Not last night.
"Tonight was a tough one to pull a lot of positive things out of," Allen said. "Prior to tonight, we were always moving in the right direction."
Conor Turley led Penn with 14 points.
If Penn is going anywhere in the Ivy, Rosen will get them there. He is a really good player who needs a lot more help.
"Collectively, we are getting better," Rosen said. "Tonight was a letdown in that progress. We didn't really attack them. We let them get into us."
And if St. Joe's is going anywhere in the A-10, it will need to play defense as it did last night.
The Hawks are starting to play with some confidence. The Dayton win helped them with that. What they do with it will be determined over the next 6 weeks. *