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Brown coach Mike Martin offers words of encouragement in a rough season for Penn basketball

Martin understands Penn's struggles better than almost anyone else who has ever walked out of the visitors' locker room at the Palestra.

Brown coach Mike Martin offers words of encouragement in a rough season for Penn basketball

Brown coach Mike Martin was an assistant at Penn under Glen Miller and then Jerome Allen from 2005 through 2012. (Nam Y. Huh/AP file photo)
Brown coach Mike Martin was an assistant at Penn under Glen Miller and then Jerome Allen from 2005 through 2012. (Nam Y. Huh/AP file photo)

It would be a stretch to say that Penn's 71-48 rout of Brown at the Palestra on Saturday felt like old times.

After all, it was just the Quakers' second win in five conference games so far this year. And the announced crowd of 3,103 only got to what it was because of a ticket promotion for students in the senior class.

But there's also a point at which a 23-point win is a 23-point win. That's especially true when the victor is in the midst of the longest stretch of consecutive seasons without a conference title in the Ivy League era. The drought of Ivy League championships on 33rd Street stretches back to 2007, matching the previous record set between the 1987 and 1993 campaigns.

Brown coach Mike Martin gets what that means better than almost anyone else who has ever walked out of the visitors' locker room at the Palestra. He was an assistant at Penn under Glen Miller and then Jerome Allen from 2005 through 2012.

It should be noted that when Miller was fired, Martin wanted to stay at Penn. That was a pretty big statement from a guy whose roots were and still are mainly in New England.

Martin began his coaching career path as an assistant to Miller at Brown, in the final year before Penn hired Miller to replace Fran Dunphy. Before that, Martin played for Miller from 2000 to 2004. Those Bears teams were some of the best ever, and only the Ugonna Onyekwe-era Quakers stopped Martin's squads from winning an Ivy League title.

Whether as a player or a coach, Martin has seen the Penn basketball program at its best.  Now he is back at his alma mater, trying to restore a program that also has fading memories of past glory.

Martin was asked after Saturday's game what it was like to return to the Palestra as a head coach, and he didn't need much prompting to give a lengthy answer. Indeed, he got right to the point in his opening statement.

Here are some highlights of Martin's remarks.

Well, I guess they welcomed me back here tonight. I didn't enjoy it - I didn't enjoy that evening. But you've got to credit Jerome, credit his players.

I thought our guys for the most part played hard and wanted to win the game. I thought the Penn kids needed to win the game. I thought they played with a sense of desperation.

Jerome did an outstanding job, as I knew he would, preparing his team, and if Miles Cartwright plays like that - I think he's one of the best guards in our league anyways, and obviously I'm very close with him, but if he plays like that, there's not a lot of guys in our league better.

[...]

It's not easy to coach against guys that you're close with. I've got my own team to worry about, but I can tell you that I've watched an awful lot of Penn games this year. It's been a really hard year for people around here - I understand the expectations and what the standard is here at Penn, and this year has been difficult for them.

But as much as people around here are hurting for this program - I can't say I'm hurting the most for them, but I have a lot invested in what's going on down here in Philadelphia.

As a competitor, you want no matter who you're playing - if you're playing your mother, you want to try and do all you can to win. And I did all I could to win tonight. I think our players did all they could to win tonight. We just ran into a team that was better, more prepared and a really, really hungry from what I could see.

[...]

It's different. I've been here for the last six years as a coach. This is a great building, a great program, a great university. It was a lot of emotions before the game. Once the ball went up, it's really a cliché, but it's true - you're playing and you're coaching your team and you're not thinking about anything else.

 


Penn coach Jerome Allen also had a few important things to say in his postgame press conference. Allen didn't talk about Martin too much, but then again he's got plenty on his plate aside from that. Here are some highlights of his remarks:

 

On what fueled the win:

I thought that for the most part, the guys did a pretty good job of responding to our challenge stemming from yesterday. We didn't play particularly great in terms of our effort and enthusiasm, and our ability to focus and lock in - primarily defensively.

Tonight, they responded. I thought they played hard, I thought they defended, I thought they played with a certain sense of urgency. The ability to make shots was just icing on the cake. If we can hold teams to under 30 points per half at this level, I think we'll have a pretty good chance of being in games. And when you make shots, it's just that much better.

On pulling away in the second half after many games this season in which strong first halves have been followed by weak second halves:

We talk every half about starting the second half the right way. The first four minutes are the most important part of the game, whether we're up or whether we're down. Just in terms of establishing our will and the things we are trying to accomplish.

We came out in the second half and if I'm not mistaken, we had a missed shot and a couple of turnovers. I wrote on the board that guys were just making aggressive mistakes. So with that being said, some things I have to live with until we get to the point of maturation. And we're not there yet.

But the only thing I really want to see is forward progression. Hopefully we can use this game as the springboard to get us to believe that we can be the defensive team that I think we can be.

On the team's strong effort on the defensive glass, pulling down 33 of the 43 rebounds contested at that end of the floor:

We talked about it in the pregame - the number on the board was 21. Last night we gave up 21 offensive rebounds and we had 17 turnovers. In a 65-possesion game, you're not going to win too many games -if any - giving up 21 offensive rebounds and turning it over 17 times. So for us, we just wanted to close each possession out.

I thought Miles did an excellent job. He came up with seven rebounds. I'm not necessarily worried about the 28 points, but if he can give us seven defensive rebounds [each game], he's going to make us a better team.

On the status of Darien Nelson-Henry's injured knee:

I don't know anything just yet. He just wasn't able to move around in a comfortable manner tonight, and that's how the ball bounces. I will say that Cam Gunter did an excellent job of stepping up and giving us what we needed out of him.

About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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