Three Quakeaways from Penn men’s colossal collapse at Princeton

The plan Penn coach Steve Donahue oversaw to limit reigning Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan’s effectiveness worked Saturday at Princeton, but his team still lost to the Tigers for an eighth straight outing. (Photo by Erica Denhoff)

PRINCETON, N.J. — It is hard to envision a more disheartening end to an Ivy League regular season than the collapse Penn orchestrated on Saturday at Jadwin Gymnasium.

The Quakers (17-12, 9-5 Ivy) squandered a 17-point second-half lead before falling in overtime to Princeton (19-8, 10-4), 77-69, handing a share of the Ivy regular season title to their most bitter rivals.

Penn’s undoing was an offensive outage when it mattered most. After sophomore guard George Smith hit a contested layup to extend the Quakers’ edge to 66-58 with 4:16 to go, the team did not make a shot from the field for the remainder of regulation or overtime, a 9:16 stretch.

The Quakers are now locked into the No. 3 seed for next Saturday’s Ivy League Tournament, which will also be held at Jadwin. They will either get a third crack at Princeton or a rubber match against Yale, depending on the result of Yale’s Saturday night road game against Brown.

All the good feelings from Penn’s eight-game winning streak have disappeared in a flash, replaced by a handful of mostly painful Quakeaways:

1. Penn’s offensive executions and actions were abysmal when it mattered most.

The Quakers’ three worst offensive sets of the season came during the team’s three most important possessions of the season. What’s more, they got worse as the stakes grew.

With 1:42 to play and Penn clinging to a 66-62 lead, the Quakers got a shot clock reset to 20 seconds after the Tigers committed their fifth foul. Instead of running some clock, Penn opted for a catch-and-shoot three-point try in the corner for superstar guard Jordan Dingle out of the baseline inbounds.

The shot was a decent look for Dingle, but it was probably not the best the team could have gotten, especially given the time and score.

After a Matt Allocco bucket got Princeton within two, the Tigers committed their sixth foul. With 1:12 left, 20 seconds on the shot clock, and a 66-64 lead, Penn opted to have Dingle inbound the ball from the sideline. The soon-to-be Ivy Player of the Year did not touch the ball again during the possession.

The Quakers opted instead to have junior forward Max Martz try an isolation backdown on Princeton’s Ryan Langborg. Martz left a difficult turnaround shot short with nine seconds left on the shot clock.

Once Allocco tied the game at 66 with 45 seconds left, the Quakers had one more chance to get a game-winning bucket. Inexplicably, the ball again never touched Dingle’s hands once he inbounded the ball under Penn’s basket. Instead, a possession that was going nowhere fast ended with senior swingman Lucas Monroe trying to drive late in the shot clock on Princeton’s best player, senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan.

That ended, predictably, in a turnover.

It is absurd that the best player in the Ivy League did not get a chance to go win a title for his teammates.

2. Penn’s plan for guarding Tosan Evbuomwan worked.

In the first Penn-Princeton matchup at the Palestra back in January, Quakers coach Steve Donahue opted to give Martz first crack at defending Princeton’s superstar point forward at the top of the defense. That ended poorly, as Evbuomwan finished with a game-high 26 points on 13 shots in a 72-60 Tigers victory.

This time around, Donahue opted for a hybrid approach. He started off by having Monroe guard Evbuomwan on the perimeter when he was looking to distribute, and would have Martz and senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd switch and take Evbuomwan in the post.

Monroe performed admirably but picked up two quick fouls in the game’s first four minutes. He eventually fouled out in overtime, as did Martz.

Donahue adjusted by having Smith guard Evbuomwan for stretches. That worked for a while, but Evbuomwan took advantage of his four-inch height advantage on the sophomore guard at times.

Evbuomwan finished with 15 points on 12 shots, but he committed six turnovers and wound up with a KenPom offensive rating of 92 points per 100 possessions, well below the breakeven mark of 100 points per 100 possessions.

If Penn gets another shot at Princeton, it has a decent shot of at least slowing down the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year.

3. Recovering mentally from a loss like this is difficult, but not impossible.

The Quakers have now blown four games this season where they had second-half win probabilities, per KenPom, of 95.8% (vs. Saint Joseph’s), 89.2% (vs. La Salle), 94.8% (at Dartmouth) and 93.2% (at Princeton).

Those four second-half collapses are the difference between the Quakers having an outright Ivy League title and a share of the Big 5 title and the position they occupy now.

Expectations among the fan base will be low if the Quakers have to play Princeton in the Ivy League semifinals next week, and deservedly so. If Penn was ever going to beat Princeton with this group of players, Saturday was the time to do it.

Swap out a few words, and that paragraph could just as easily apply to how Princeton fans felt after they saw their team throw away a 19-point second-half lead in an overtime loss to Yale at home a few weeks ago.

If the Tigers can pull themselves back from the brink after an all-time loss like that, so can the Quakers.

The image freshest in this writer’s mind right now is of Martz punching a chair on the bench in anger after he fouled out with 1:58 to go in overtime and the Quakers down 68-67. He and his teammates will need to channel those feelings and take it out on whomever they face next week.

1 thought on “Three Quakeaways from Penn men’s colossal collapse at Princeton”

  1. As a Penn fan, that was one of the most brutal games in this long rivalry. (With the Tigers dominance over the last decade, does Princeton still consider the Quakers a rival?).

    Dingle has been phenomenal this year and his first half was fantastic. However, I am not so sure he ends up being the POY. With Knowling missing a few games, the POY would seem to come down to Jordan and Tosan. Being shut down in three of four halves and one OT by the first place team makes me lean toward the stat-stuffing big man from Princeton.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up being co-POY, but it would’ve been an easier call for Jordan if Penn would have sealed the deal.

    It’s incredible how Penn struggles against Princeton anywhere and against Yale outside of the Palestra, while Princeton struggles against Yale everywhere. Given the recent & semi-recent history, a healthy Yale team would seem to be the Ivy Tournament favorite.

    Getting back to Penn, another regular season with a late disappointment leaving them without a title. Do you feel Steve Donahue’s job is in jeopardy if they don’t win the Ivy Tournament?

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