Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Guru Local Report: Despite Ross Big Night Penn Overcome By Bearcats Rally at Binghamton

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

VESTAL, N.Y. – Back in the early days of the NASA program building toward the eventual goal of manned space flight and ultimately landing on the moon, one would delight in seeing those test rockets launch in a blaze of glory only to be horrified moments later when the projectile had to be aborted and blown to pieces.

Such was the launch of the Penn women’s basketball 2017-18 season here Wednesday night at the Birmingham University Events Center at the front end of a predicted run to finish in a third straight and fourth-out-of-five regular season Ivy championship and two out of two Ivy tournament titles.

Senior guard Anna Ross, playing just over an hour away from her hometown of Syracuse, got the Quakers off to an explosive start scoring their first 10 points and powering Penn to a 17-3 lead over the Bearcats in their second-ever meeting, coming 12 months after losing to the Bearcats at The Palestra.

But despite 6-foot-4 freshman Eleah Parker, touted as the next era after the graduation of Sydney Stipanoivch, grabbing four rebounds in the early action, things began to sputter and by the night’s end Binghamton had a 77-72 victory and for the Bearcats (2-1) something to hang their hat on well ahead of the eventual America East competition.

“We’ve got holes,” coach Mike McLaughlin said in a glum state. “No question there’s skill but we got holes and unless we find a two-guard quickly we’re going to muddle along.”

McLaughlin, in what is now his ninth season, has been an almost mad scientist on the Penn campus since arriving from building Holy Family, his alma mater, into nationally prominent Division II program out of Northeast Philadelphia.

After suffering with just two wins in his inaugural season down at The Palestra, McLaughlin got rid of the doormat label worn by Penn, setting all kind of program milestones and producing freshman and Ivy player of the year honorees, such as senior Michelle Nowkedi, who is on the watchlist of the new Katrina McLain power forward award and likely to be drawing WNBA coaches as the next several months move along.

No question count on McLaughlin to retool in plenty of time before the Ivy wars begin but the schedule may not allow the chemistry to kick in quickly considering after Saturday’s home opener at 5 p.m. against Lafayette at The Palestra, next comes the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas on Thanksgiving against Georgia Tech and potentially No. 2 Baylor among the three opponents.

There’s Big Five games against Saint Joseph’s and La Salle on their campuses and a return visit from national power Notre Dame on Dec. 9.

With a differential of just seven points on the losing end, McLaughlin asked rhetorically, “And how many layups did we miss?”

Quite a few on a shooting night of 27-for-66 for 40.9 percent from the field while Binghamton also made 27 field goals but on seven more attempts.

And the Bearcats also hit the Quakers with the Villanova treatment, completing 10 three-point attempts to seven from the visitors, whose 13 turnovers — the home team had eight — allowed Binghamton, which had a 48-43 rebounding advantage, to outscore Penn 13-5 in transition.

Defensively, the 22-14 Bearcats’ advantage on the offensive boards wasn’t costly in terms of a slim 12-11 comparison on second chance points, but allowing less might have enabled the outcome to go Penn’s way.

Ross finished with 21 points, shooting 7-for-10 from the field, including 3-of-5 triplets, while Lauren Whitlatch, back from the knee injury that shortened last season, had 14 points, and Nwokedi had 16 points and nine rebounds.

It seemed a quiet night for the native of Houston but in fairness, in having a post presence of her and Stipanovich playing in tandem with their eyes closed the last several season, there is an adjustment in the chemistry to be made with Parker, who had six points and five rebounds.

Ashley Russell had six points and eight rebounds. But the depth concern showed itself via Binghamton’s 26-9 production aided by Bearcats reserves Rebecca Carmody scoring 11 points and Carly Boland scoring 13, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

Alyssa James grabbed 12 rebounds.

A year ago Binghamton dominated the entire night at Penn while this one featured the rally that was keyed by a wake-up go-to-the-bench moment for Imani Watkins, who then bounced back with a star-of-the-night  27 points.

Note, however, while the Penn faithful could be wondering how is it possible to lose twice to Binghamton, coach Linda Cimino, now in her fourth season, has been building something at the upstate New York university.

Picked ninth in 2015-16 in the conference, Cimino, who played at Adelphi, earned coach of the year laurels with a tie-for-third finish in the America East after being picked ninth. 

Like McLaughlin, she cut her teeth in the D2 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, turning Caldwell from a combined 39-71 combined record in four seasons prior to her arrival to 128-100 in eight seasons, including 90-52 her last four and a CACC title in 2013.

“Penn is the best team on our schedule and the best coached team we’re going to play all year,” she said after Binghamton’s comeback. “This is huge for our program, hopefully we can use this to spark something for the rest of our season. It’s an incredible feeling because so many people stepped up in so many ways today.”

Saint Joseph’s and Penn State Roll to Road Wins

The front end of Saint Joseph’s season is giving signs that the misery of a year ago prior to a strong run in the Atlantic 10 is becoming a distant memory.

Following the Hawks’ lopsided season opener at Niagara Sunday, Saint Joseph’s duplicated the effort at Patriot League favorite Bucknell, using a 43-23 second-half explosion to power from a slim four-point advantage to a 77-53 victory to end a 29-game home win streak at Sojka Pavilion.

Chelsea Woods, one of the many Hawks stars of the Philly women’s summer league in the offseason, had a game-high 21 points and a team-high nine rebounds, while Amanda Fiorvanti had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks; Adashia Franklyn, the daughter of Temple all-timer Marilyn Stephens, had 12 points and seven rebounds, Alyssa Monaghan had 10 points and six assists, and Sarah Veilleux had 10 points and three assists.

Kate Walker had 16 points for the Bisons (2-1), who were held to 19-of-62 from the field for 30.6 percent.

Saint Joseph’s stays on the road for another test, visiting Colonial Athletic Association favorite James Madison Sunday afternoon.

Then Thanksgiving weekend the Hawks will debut at home Saturday and Sunday with a tournament that used to. Be held Christmas week, meeting Eastern Illinois while Delaware will play Saint Peter’s in the first round.

In the only other action Wednesday involving the Guru local teams, Penn State stayed unbeaten at 3-0, winning at Marshall, 80-65, in a non-conference game in Huntingdon, W. Va. to drop the home team to 1-1 after the game at the Cam Henderson Center.

Five Lady Lions scored in double figures in their road opener led by a career-high 20 points from freshman Kamaria McDaniel, who was 7-for-10 from the field and 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.

Jaida Travascio-Green had 15 points and five rebounds while De’Janae Boykin had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Amari Carter scored 12, and Siyeh Frazier had 11.

Shayna Gore had 22 points for Marshall and Ashley Saintigene grabbed 10 rebounds.

Penn State next visits Providence on Saturday afternoon in a game that perhaps was scheduled when former Lady Lion all-timer Susan Robinson-Fruchtl, now athletic director at Saint Francis of Loretto, was coaching the Friars.

Looking Ahead

Thursday night’s action features the first local clash of the unofficial Philly Six variety as La Salle (1-1) visits Drexel (0-1) at 7 at the Dragons’ Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Temple (1-1) will look to bounce back from Monday’s thrashing by Rutgers, staying at home to host Wagner at 7 in McGonigle Hall while Rutgers (2-0) will be on the road playing Charlotte.

Delaware (1-1) makes its home debut at the Bob Carpenter Center for new coach Natasha Adair, who last coached Georgetown, as the Blue Hens host American, which beat La Salle earlier this week.

Princeton (1-0) visits Seton Hall in the first of the New Jersey triad games that also involves Rutgers.

On Friday, Villanova will host Lehigh at 5 p.m. at the PPL Center in Allentown before the Wildcats men play.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Rider (0-2) still looking for its first win, will host Holy Cross, the third straight opponent from the Patriot League at 2 p.m. while Bucknell follows its loss to Saint Joseph’s visiting Drexel at 2 p.m., allowing a West Philadelphia area doubleheader since there’s enough time to head to Penn afterwards.

Besides games mentioned, Sunday features the big attraction with nationally-ranked Duke visiting Villanova at Jake Nevin Fieldhouse at 1 p.m. Princeton will host Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. giving the visiting Yellow Jackets two straight Ivy opponents next meeting Penn in the Bahamas.

Delaware hosts Boston U. at 2 p.m. while Rutgers makes its home debut hosting Wake Forest at 6:30 p.m. 

National weekend action has a California visiting Connecticut Friday night and the Huskies then hosting Maryland Sunday.

UCLA hosts Baylor Saturday while Notre Dame visits Oregon State.

And that’s the report.


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