Three Quakeaways from Penn men taking care of business in win over Dartmouth

Senior Lucas Monroe turned in a 13-point, 10-rebound performance to lift Penn past Dartmouth at the Palestra Saturday (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

PHILADELPHIA — Penn is one win away from at least a share of the Ivy League regular season championship after a businesslike 89-79 win over Dartmouth at the Palestra on Senior Day.

The Quakers never trailed after the 16-minute mark of the first half, but there were some dicey moments along the way. At one point, a 9-0 Big Green run midway through the second half cut the visiting team’s deficit to 64-61 and forced Penn coach Steve Donahue into a timeout with 9:19 to play.

Coming out of the break, junior forward Max Martz proved to be Penn’s stopper.

Martz got a mismatch in the post against Dartmouth’s Ryan Cornish, backed down the guard and drained a righty hook to extend the Red and Blue’s lead back to five. He then went on to add two three-pointers from the corner and a second jumper over the next four-plus minutes to hold Dartmouth at bay. Martz finished the afternoon with 18 points and a team-high KenPom offensive rating of 163 points per 100 possessions.

Penn will need a performance like that from Martz next Saturday at Princeton in arguably the team’s biggest regular-season game in five years.

During the long wait, Quakers fans will have plenty to ruminate on, such as how …

1. Lucas Monroe is playing the best basketball of his career.

After getting honored with his family pregame, Monroe dominated Dartmouth. The senior forward finished the afternoon with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Monroe took a background role in Penn’s offense early in the season but has displayed some impressive aggression coming down the stretch in his final campaign in Philadelphia.

He took his man off the bounce several times and looked like the strongest man on either team, which is no small feat when you’re sharing the floor with Jordan Dingle and Dartmouth senior forward Dame Adelekun.

Monroe has also quietly developed into Penn’s most important rebounder. He’s grabbing 22% of all available defensive rebounds in conference play, per KenPom, good for the fourth-best defensive rebounding rate in the Ivy League.

Penn will miss Monroe dearly next season. It was heartening to see the Abington, Pa. native get a proper Palestra sendoff.

2. The defense’s biggest weakness was on full display.

Penn has let opponents launch threes all season. The Quakers rank 343rd out of 363 Division I teams at limiting three-point opportunities and allow opponents to put up 43.3% of their field goal attempts from distance.

On Saturday, the Quakers nearly got burned by that flaw. Dartmouth attempted more threes (29) than twos (26) and hit 13 long-distance shots.

The Big Green got wide-open looks for their secondary shooters through crisp ball reversals and inside-out passing. The Quakers limited Cornish, Dartmouth’s best three-point shooter, to just one made three on four attempts.

Princeton is not a particularly great three-point shooting team (174th in Division I with a 34.2% three-point percentage), but the Red and Blue will get themselves run out of Jadwin Gymnasium if they let Princeton get 29 shots up from deep.

3. Next Saturday is why players come to Penn.

It’s been a long time since Penn and Princeton faced off in a regular-season game with this much on the line.

The closest equivalent in recent memory came in this writer’s freshman year at Penn in 2012, when the Quakers had a chance with a win in their regular-season finale to force a one-game playoff for the Ivy title with Harvard, fell down 23-6 at Jadwin, and couldn’t recover.

This writer has belabored the point of Penn’s struggles with Princeton time and again. There’s no one great option on Penn’s roster to guard Princeton point forward Tosan Evbuomwan. The Tigers suffocated Penn’s outside shooting opportunities in the first matchup between these two teams at the Palestra.

The Quakers are playing at a high enough level on the offensive end right now to overcome those structural difficulties. They have scored more than 1.2 points per possession in three of their past five games (including a 1.25 point per possession performance on Saturday), according to KenPom.

To deliver a statement win over your biggest rival — regardless of whether it results in an outright Ivy title — would be the culmination of everything this team has been working towards for roughly two months.

Go out and get it.