It’s not often that a team manages to lose a game in which it goes on a 21-2 run, but Penn did just that on Wednesday night, dropping its Big 5 opener to Saint Joseph’s in overtime at the Palestra, 85-80.
The Quakers (5-5) dominated the Hawks for 25 minutes, but that simply wasn’t enough. Saint Joseph’s (3-3) clawed back from a 14-point second half deficit on the back of some ramped-up defensive intensity, using ball-side pressure to disrupt Penn’s dribble handoffs and passing. Couple that with some three-point shooting progression to the mean, and you have a recipe for a comeback.
Despite everything, Penn held leads with 77 seconds left in regulation, 1:55 left in overtime and 1:00 left in overtime. Even after giving up the lead for good, the Quakers had four possessions in the final 56 seconds of overtime with a chance to win or extend the game.
Three open looks from long range did not go down for Jonah Charles or Clark Slajchert, while a fourth chance was wiped away by a debatable charge call on sophomore swingman Eddie Holland III.
What did Penn fans learn from an excruciating defeat?
1. Nick Spinoso is now Penn’s point forward.
Spinoso, a sophomore forward from Port Washington, N.Y., has emerged as an ultra-aggressive passer in his second campaign wearing red and blue. He dished out 11 assists on Wednesday and is averaging 9.33 assists per game over his last three contests.
Penn doesn’t quite yet have a replacement to do everything all-time great big man AJ Brodeur did, but Spinoso does a more than adequate impression of Brodeur when he’s initiating Penn’s offense in the high post and outside the arc.
In fact, Spinoso’s 11 assists Wednesday were one higher than Brodeur’s career high in a single game (10).
Spinoso is credited for an assist on 39.1% of Penn’s offensive possessions where he gets usage, per KenPom. That’s the 14th-best rate in all of Division I.
Spinoso’s offensive rating on KenPom sits at 93.4 points per 100 possessions, below the break-even mark of 100. That’s a direct function of his relatively high turnover rate (25.7% of possessions he uses end in a giveaway).
That turnover rate, though, is in turn a function of Spinoso’s aggression. Many of his turnovers are the product of passes which are great ideas, but just miss.
Penn can live with that.
2. There’s a dropoff in free-throw shooting.
What Penn can’t live with, however, is Spinoso’s struggles at the free throw line. Spinoso went 2-for-8 at the charity stripe on Wednesday, dropping his season free-throw percentage to 33.3% on 21 attempts.
Though Clark Slajchert went a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line against Saint Joseph’s, the rest of the Quakers shot 8-for-19. That figure includes star guard Jordan Dingle, an 87.8% free-throw shooter who couldn’t convert a four-point play opportunity that would have pushed Penn to a late seven-point lead.
So far, the Quakers can credibly say they have two elite foul shooters on the roster in Dingle and Slajchert, who is shooting 96.3% from the line. That’s better than most Penn teams in seasons past.
After that, though, it gets dicey. Max Martz is 7-for-8 on the season, but he missed Wednesday’s game with an illness and doesn’t get to the line much even when available.
Holland entered Wednesday 6-for-7 from the line, but he had two misses on four attempts Wednesday.
3. Depth is now an issue.
Part of Penn’s loss Wednesday can simply be chalked to the team running out of gas down the stretch. Three players — Dingle, Slajchert and forward Lucas Monroe — all played at least 40 minutes against Saint Joseph’s.
Penn withstood the absence of Martz — who had been playing his best basketball — without too much of an issue, thanks to Holland, but an injury to center Max Lorca-Lloyd really hampered its frontcourt rotation.
Lorca-Lloyd went down hard while blocking a Hawks shot in the first half and sat out the entire second half and overtime with his right foot and ankle area wrapped up. Lorca-Lloyd missed all of Big 5 and Ivy play last season with a foot injury.
As the Hawks mounted their second-half comeback, the Quakers sorely needed Lorca-Lloyd on the floor as a rim protector. If he’s out for a while, then Spinoso, Monroe, Martz and Michael Moshkovitz will be asked to carry a heavy load.