In this week’s Mano-a-Mano, basketball writer John Phillips and Senior Sports Editor-elect Mike Tony debate who should have stepped up with the game on the line on Tuesday night against Lafayette.
John Phillips: This is a new year for Penn basketball. Zack Rosen isn’t coming in to take that last shot, to be the clutch player that the team needs. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about seniority, and more importantly, about closing experience.
Miles Cartwright is the leader of this team. The only other player an argument could be made for is Fran Dougherty, who wasn’t on the floor Tuesday night. Cartwright has been in tough games throughout his career, especially during last year’s Ivy League run, when every game was a must-win. He watched Rosen, and more importantly, he learned from him.
And while Penn coach Jerome Allen said last night that Tony Hicks made the right call by dishing the rock to a wide open Steve Rennard, if Cartwright drove that hard to the hole, he would have finished the job himself.
Mike Tony: Unfortunately, though, Cartwright’s experience in closing games this season hasn’t been acceptable. He literally fumbled a game-winning opportunity against Drexel and has only led the Quakers in scoring in five out of 14 games this season.
You dance with who brung you, and in this case, Allen was right to ride the lineup that brought Penn back from the dead against Lafayette. You say he would have finished the job if he had drove hard to the hole, but where has that killer instinct been? Not at Wagner, where he froze up in the closing seconds and had to heave up a desperation trey at the end of regulation that had no chance.
You’re right, this is a new year for Penn basketball. So for a team that can’t buy a win, you reward those who are at least getting you close to one. Against Lafayette, that was Darien Nelson-Henry and Dau Jok, not Cartwright.
JP: After the team’s loss to La Salle, it became clear (or clearer) that this team needs a player to step up, take care of the ball and make players better.
During the first half against Lafayette, that was Cartwright. He was attacking the hole with the veracity that he lacked early in the season. Sure, Nelson-Henry’s ability to run the pick and roll effectively can’t be denied, but it takes two to tango, and Cartwright was handling the Leopards in the same fashion that Tony Johnson was picking apart the Quakers on the other side of the floor.
If it had just been on gamewinning opportunity, then allowing Hicks to have that last chance is okay. But when you have two possessions under 35 seconds remaining and Hicks has already failed to convert the first, you have to consider giving the ball to Cartwright, who has clearly learned from his previous mistakes.
MT: This offense needs to be more aggressive, so it’s great that role players like Nelson-Henry and Hicks stepped up to take a combined 19 shots from the field, and most importantly, make 11 of them.
When your go-to guy only shoots six times from the field, someone else needs to pick it up, and that tandem did. Why go to the same player that has let you down multiple times this season with the game on the line when there are other hot hands to go to?
JP: Nelson-Henry cooled off as time went on, and though Hicks shot the ball well (who didn’t?), his decision-making instinct hasn’t been honed. Choosing to pass to Rennard, who was one of only three players who shot under 50 percent for the game, was not the right choice if, as you say, the offense needs to be more aggressive. Cartwright showed he knew when to attack and when to defer last night.
MT: Rennard was wide open in that situation; it’s hard to fault Hicks there for finding the open guy. Just go with what’s working when nothing else is. At that point, it was Hicks, Nelson-Henry, Jok and Louis who were working. Cartwright will have more opportunities to shine in late-game situations, but the future is now. It’s time to embrace it.
Verdict? Mike wins this one. The Quakers came into 2012-13 eager to embrace a new identity as an ensemble rather than the Zack Rosen Show. And it’s only as an ensemble that Penn will start winning games again.
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