Three Quakeaways from Penn men falling at Villanova

Penn coach Steve Donahue’s frontcourt rotation seems less clear after Penn’s loss at Villanova Wednesday night. Donahue is making do without sophomore guard George Smith (40) or junior guard Clark Slajchert. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

Playing in front of a national TV audience on CBS Sports Network, Penn delivered a game, albeit losing, performance against Villanova in a 70-59 loss at the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night.

A 13-0 run gave Villanova a 10-point lead late in the first half it would not surrender. Despite the best efforts of guard Jordan Dingle — who scored 23 points in the second half and appeared generally unguardable — the Quakers (5-7) never cut their deficit any closer than six points in the second half.

It felt like there were numerous opportunities when the Quakers had a chance to truly make the Wildcats sweat. But Penn just couldn’t quite get the big shot or stop it needed.

Their last, best shot came with about five minutes left in the game. After Villanova’s Caleb Daniels split a pair of free throws, Dingle found senior guard Jonah Charles in the left corner for an open three-pointer in transition. Charles, a three-point specialist, couldn’t convert the look, which would have pulled Penn within five points. The Quakers never seriously threatened after.

It’s obvious that Penn desperately needs guard Clark Slajchert back. The junior, who averages more than 17 points per game, sat out his second consecutive contest with a knee injury. Penn coach Steve Donahue told the Daily Pennsylvanian that Slajchert has a bad bone bruise and is likely out until after Penn’s three-week finals break.

What could Penn fans take away from Wednesday’s tilt?

1. Eddie Holland’s role is expanding.

Holland, a sophomore swingman, played a career-high 22 minutes on Wednesday night and delivered a pair of highlight moments.

Midway through the first half, he delivered a thunderous block in the middle of the lane on Villanova’s Mark Armstrong, a highly touted freshman. Holland’s effort rejecting Armstrong was strong enough that this writer was barely able to stifle himself from yelling in the middle of a cocktail reception.

Then, in the dying seconds of the first half, Holland and Dingle ran an excellent two-man break after Dingle swiped the ball from the Wildcats’ Jordan Longino. Holland converted an easy layup which pulled Penn within seven points of ‘Nova.

Holland’s recent extended run has been partly a function of Slajchert’s injury. But he has done more than enough to justify a rotational role when Ivy play rolls around.

2. The frontcourt rotation looks a little murkier.

Sophomore Nick Spinoso, who had played a solid point forward role for Penn in stretches recently, played a more limited role on Wednesday, receiving just 18 minutes despite starting.

Donahue went smaller at times on Wednesday, which resulted in Michael Moshkovitz getting a lot of action down the stretch. The Quakers also asked a little bit more than usual from junior Max Martz as an interior defender.

That tactic wound up burning Penn. Martz fouled out midway through the second half as the Wildcats got to the free throw line again and again. That put an early end to a solid night for Martz, who shot 6-for-7 from inside the arc.

Max Lorca-Lloyd, who missed Saturday’s game against La Salle with an ankle injury, made a brief cameo on Wednesday in the first half. Perhaps he’ll get a little bit more action on Saturday against Temple.

3. We still have not seen this Penn team play at full strength. 

It was tough to watch Penn struggle from outside against Villanova on Wednesday — the Quakers shot 6-for-23 from deep — without Slajchert available. One wonders if the final result would have been different if he had been available to knock down three or four of those shots.

Penn has had a handful of opportunities against good teams on its nonconference schedule and entered almost each one with one hand tied behind its back.

The Quakers faced Iona and Missouri on the road with Dingle and Slajchert both rusty from missing preseason practice time (and still almost beat Missouri). They didn’t have Dingle available when they faced West Virginia on the road in Morgantown and were down both Slajchert and steady perimeter defender George Smith on Wednesday.

The narrative around this Penn team would be far different if it had picked off just one of those games. It has another shot against a KenPom top-100 team at home on Saturday against Temple, but it will once again be shorthanded without Slajchert and Smith.