PHILADELPHIA — Penn’s season looks like it’s on the verge of spinning out of control after the Quakers delivered a dispiriting offensive performance en route to a 72-60 home defeat against archrival Princeton.
If you had told the average Quakers fan prior to the game that Penn (9-10, 2-3 Ivy) would hold Princeton (13-5, 4-1) to 40.4% shooting from the field, four made three-pointers on 25 attempts and just six assists on 23 made baskets, they would have told you that the Red and Blue would likely win by double digits.
Instead, the Quakers one-upped the Tigers’ offensive futility. Penn failed to make a single three-pointer on Monday, and, in fact, has not hit a single shot from long distance since Jordan Dingle’s four-point play opportunity with 3:29 to go in the first half of Penn’s Saturday loss to Dartmouth.
The backbreaking sequence for the Quakers came with roughly 10:38 to go in the second half and Princeton up two, 40-38. The Tigers’ Ryan Langborg freed himself from Penn’s Andrew Laczkowski for a decent look at a three and drained the shot. Penn forward Nick Spinoso was simultaneously called for a foul away from the ball.
Princeton was in the bonus, so standout freshman Caden Pierce calmly drained both ends of a one-and-one to complete the five-point possession. The Tigers’ lead was just seven points, 45-38, but it may as well have been 20, given Penn’s offensive struggles.
Most of the Quakeaways from Monday are ugly, so look away if you must:
1. Mitch Henderson eliminated what Penn does best.
The Princeton coach has not taken a loss to the Quakers since Feb. 6, 2018, an 82-65 defeat at Jadwin Gymnasium. Since then, the Tigers have managed to beat Penn seven consecutive times, whether they’ve been slight underdogs, heavy underdogs or favorites.
Princeton had an answer for all of Penn’s favorite actions on Monday. Whenever Penn tried to get either of its star guards — Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert — driving to the basket, the Tigers seemed to always have a second defender either ready to get in their face or sitting back in the paint to prevent the open floaters in the lane both frequently hit.
The Tigers’ defense also did an excellent job taking away one of Penn’s bread-and-butter offensive options — isolating junior forward Max Martz on the left block and letting him go to work. Martz was doubled virtually every time he touched the ball in the post on Monday and finished just 1-for-5 from the field.
Penn finished 0-for-12 from deep, and much of the credit for that has to go to Princeton for clamping down and not letting the Quakers get many easy catch-and-shoot opportunities.
But with that being said …
2. Penn’s guards are in a major funk.
Slajchert turned in one of the worst shooting performances of his career on Monday, finishing 1-for-10 from the field. His one made basket came with just over a minute to go and defeat looking inevitable.
Dingle wound up with 21 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there and he committed six turnovers along the way, including one right after the Princeton five-point possession in which a pass sailed through his hands. He has missed 15 out of his last 16 three-point attempts.
Neither Dingle nor Slajchert could free themselves up for easy looks nearly as often as Penn fans are accustomed to seeing. The Quakers’ offense can survive an off night from one of them, but not both.
Penn’s lone offensive bright spot was Nick Spinoso, who was the only Red and Blue starter to finish with a KenPom offensive rating above the breakeven line of 100 points per 100 possessions while on the floor (Spinoso finished with a rating of 108 points per 100 possessions). He showed nice footwork in the post again and finished with 12 points on nine shots.
3. The path to Ivy Madness still remains right in front of the Quakers.
As the great Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”
Right now, the Quakers are lumped in the great Ivy middle class alongside Yale, Brown and Harvard, which are also 2-3 in conference play. Dartmouth sits a game ahead in sole possession of third place with a 3-2 Ivy record.
Predictive metrics view those five teams very differently. But it doesn’t matter one bit that Penn sits 119 spots higher than Dartmouth in KenPom when the Quakers handed the Big Green a head-to-head win on Saturday. Dartmouth may very well regress to the Ivy basement alongside Columbia, but Penn has spotted itself what is effectively a two-game hole to a far less talented team.
The one saving grace for the Quakers for the time being is that they already have a head-to-head win over Brown in their back pocket and get head-to-head opportunities against Yale and Harvard over the next two weeks. Harvard’s offense — especially its outside shooting — has looked anemic all season, while Yale is extremely fortunate that it has not started Ivy play 1-4 (or 0-5) and already thrown away its season, despite sitting inside the KenPom top 100.
Win at least one of those next two games, and Penn can feel at least OK about its Ivy Madness prospects.
Drop both, and the Quakers can effectively wave goodbye to their postseason hopes.