The men’s basketball team has followed a repetitive storyline so far in its short season: Follow a positive win with a back-breaking loss.
The Owls coupled a lopsided victory Nov. 27 against NCAA Tournament-hopeful Miami with a loss three days later to Rutgers, chosen in preseason polls to finish 14th out of 16 Big East Conference teams.
The Owls have yet to string together consecutive wins this season, but their 50-46 win over Penn in Game 2 of the Big 5 Classic at the Palestra on Saturday warded off a second straight loss.
A strong run through the remainder of their non-conference schedule would turn things around for the Owls, who have not finished with a winning record against non-Atlantic Ten Conference teams since the 1999-2000 season, when they went 9-3 en route to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
On Saturday, senior all-America candidate Mardy Collins said beating Penn at the Palestra was just the beginning.
“Coming out here tonight, even though we struggled, it gives us a little more confidence,” Collins said. “We just have to get a little more consistent.”
Consistency would help the Owls (3-2) finish their non-conference schedule above .500, but to do that they need to beat at least four of their final seven opponents outside of A-10 play: Princeton, No. 22 Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, No. 4 Villanova, No. 21 Maryland and No. 1 Duke.
The Crimson Tide, Wildcats and Blue Devils all advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season, with the Terrapins a close omission from the 65-team postseason bracket.
“This was a must-win game right here,” senior forward Antywane Robinson said. “It’s one of those games when, down the road, you’ll be looking back relieved that you won it or real disappointed that you lost it.”
“It’s how we start out, how we come out that’s going to get us some wins in our next couple games.”
The Owls began the game on the wrong end of an 8-0 run, and the Quakers (3-2) continued to tack on to their lead throughout the half. With seven minutes left in the first half, the Quakers had their largest lead, 21-12.
Collins played uncharacteristically for a second straight game, going 5-of-12 from the floor for 13 points. Because of his inconsistent play, one of Collins’ teammates had to step up.
Junior guard Dustin Salisbery led the Owls at the onset of the second half. Trailing 27-20, the Owls went on a 10-0 run, with Salisbery scoring five of those points. His three-pointer tied the game at 27, and Collins’ trey on the next possession gave the Owls their first lead.
After that, the Owls and Quakers exchanged the lead twice, but neither team’s lead exceeded four points. Coach John Chaney said this game was a superlative illustration of playing basketball at the Palestra.
“You always hear that it’s a horror show and a bitter end, one way or the other,” Chaney said. “You can expect the unexpected all the time here.”
The Owls relied heavily on their starters. Five players came off the bench but totaled just one point and four rebounds among them.
In their last three meetings, the Owls have beaten the Quakers by a combined nine points. … The Owls extended their unbeaten streak when holding teams to less than 50 points. The 59 successive wins date back to 1995. … Freshman center Sergio Olmos started for the first time in his career. On the Owls’ first possession, Olmos got a feed into the paint, dribbled twice to his left, and hit a hook shot. The points were erased when Olmos was called for traveling.
IN OTHER BIG 5 ACTION
La Salle forward Steven Smith converted a three-point play with 90 seconds remaining, then had a shot at another as the Explorers put away Drexel, 62-50, in the first game of Saturday’s Big 5 Classic at the Palestra.
The Explorers (4-0) led by six when Smith took a defensive rebound the length of the court for a dunk. The senior all-America candidate was fouled on the play, and hit his free throw to give the Dragons (2-4) a nine-point deficit.
On Drexel’s next possession, Smith stole the ball and was fouled while hitting a layup. Smith missed his shot, but his five unanswered points gave the Explorers enough of a cushion to preserve their blemish-free record.
If losing by 23 points to Colgate epitomizes an unproductive start to a season, then Princeton is certainly having one. The Tigers are 1-3 and have lost to Drexel and Lehigh. They host the Owls tonight at 7:30 p.m., kicking off a three-game homestand.
The Tigers are not getting much offensive output from anyone other than Noah Savage. The sophomore forward has averaged 15.8 points per game in the Tigers first four contests. He has connected on 58 percent of his shots, including 62 percent from three-point range.
The rest of the team is shooting 34 percent from the floor, and 26 percent from long range.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.