After an 0-3 start, Penn is off the schneid.
The Quakers used a solid defensive performance to build a 15-point lead over Drexel early in the second half, and after wobbling a bit, made enough plays down the stretch to seal a 64-59 win over their next-door neighbors Tuesday night.
Drexel (1-1) had cut Penn’s lead to a mere two points, 57-55, with 90 seconds left when junior guard Clark Slajchert used a handoff and screen from Nick Spinoso to set up an open straightaway look from three.
Slajchert calmly buried the shot — his third triple of the contest — and effectively buried the Dragons. Penn’s on-ball defense looked much improved, though turnovers (12 of them) remained an issue on the offensive end.
The win was Penn’s first ever at Drexel’s Daskalakis Athletic Center in three tries.
What can Penn fans take away from a road trip that ended with a happy walk home?
1. The Quakers look good when they run and gun.
The most impressive moments for Penn’s offense Tuesday came when the team converted turnovers and defensive rebounds into easy transition looks.
Max Lorca-Lloyd was the biggest beneficiary of Penn’s aggressive runouts. The senior center’s best moment came early in the second half when he leaked out behind Drexel’s defense after a miss.
Senior swingman Lucas Monroe launched a pass which traveled roughly two-thirds the length of the court and right into Lorca-Lloyd’s hands. After an up-fake, Lorca-Lloyd freed himself for a two-handed dunk that extended Penn’s lead to 44-29.
All in all, the sequence took about seven seconds. As the season progresses, Penn can use Lorca-Lloyd’s athleticism and the outside shooting of Slajchert and Jordan Dingle to punish Ivy opponents.
Lorca-Lloyd finished with eight points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting from the field.
2. Free throw shooting is now a valuable asset.
Penn spent four consecutive seasons in the Steve Donahue era from 2016-17 through 2019-20 ranked below 300th in Division I in free-throw shooting percentage.
Those struggles at the stripe arguably cost the Quakers a chance to pick up what would have been the first ever win for a No. 16 seed in the 2018 NCAA men’s tournament when the team shot 5-for-14 from the stripe in Penn’s loss to No. 1 Kansas.
Penn entered Tuesday night’s contest 27th in Division I with a team 81.6% performance at the free throw line. The Quakers built on that track record with a 13-for-14 free-throw showing against Drexel. Penn’s only miss came when George Smith couldn’t convert the front end of a one-and-one after the game had effectively already been decided.
Meanwhile, Drexel shot an atrocious 9-for-20 from the foul line. Much like Quakers fans in March 2018, Dragons fans could credibly point to that statistic as the difference on Tuesday.
3. The rotation is very much a work in progress.
At this point in the season, the only constant in Penn’s starting lineup is its backcourt: Dingle and Slajchert.
Every other minute appears to be effectively up for grabs. After starting Penn’s prior two games, three-point shooting specialist Jonah Charles did not play a minute on Tuesday night. Neither did swingman Eddie Holland III, who had looked impressive in his bench minutes against Iona, Missouri and Towson.
Gus Larson, who started last Monday’s season opener, also did not play on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Reese McMullen, who was not expected to play a large role in Penn’s rotation heading into the season, has received medium-to-high leverage minutes in two consecutive contests.