NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Penn’s losing streak hit five games after one kill shot too many from Yale Saturday night.
The Red and Blue fell, 74-58, after a 10-0 Bulldogs run over 90 seconds at the start of the second half turned a manageable six-point halftime deficit into a 16-point hole. Penn (9-12, 1-5 Ivy) had already fought-back from a 7-0 game-opening Yale (15-6, 6-0) run to take a lead, then promptly surrendered a 10-0 run to flip the scoreboard back in the Bulldogs’ favor.
A rattled-in three from Niklas Polonowski cut the Penn deficit down to nine points with just over eight minutes to play, but Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Danny Wolf responded with a personal 10-0 scoring barrage to put the game on ice.
If you had told the average fan after the Quakers’ stunning upset over Villanova that Penn would be buried in the Ivy standings before the Super Bowl, they would have told you that you were crazy. But that is the sad reality.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better.
As bad as things are right now, Penn remains just a game out of a tie for fourth place in the Ivy standings. The Quakers have climbed out of an even worse hole before: the 2016-17 team started off Ivy play 0-6 before rallying to seize the final Ivy Madness on the last day of the regular season.
The impending return of leading scorer Clark Slajchert should provide a lift, too. The senior guard didn’t play this weekend, but was spotted moving without restrictions during a social media video of Friday afternoon’s shootaround. Slajchert’s shot-creating and shot-making skills should help fix what currently looks like a broken Penn offense.
All of that hope will need to be set aside for at least two weeks, given that a road game at Princeton is next on the docket. The Quakers will likely be 15ish-point underdogs on Saturday as they stare down the barrel of a 10th consecutive loss to their biggest rival. They’ll be underdogs at home the following Friday against Yale. Penn has never had a 1-7 record in the Ivy League’s existence, which dates back to the 1955-56 season.
The next few weeks will be the toughest test of coach Steve Donahue’s tenure at Penn thus far. Can he keep a relatively inexperienced team together through a difficult stretch of losing and frustration?
Sam Brown was a bright spot.
Brown tied a career-high on Saturday night with 20 points on 15 shots. It was nice to see him shooting early and often after the freshman only got three shots in the air in Friday night’s loss to Brown.
Slajchert’s return should take some of the ball-handling pressure off Brown, who has operated as Penn’s point guard for stretches. Brown had a couple of nice takes to the hoop on Saturday, and has revealed that there’s much more to his game than just three-point shooting.
What’s also nice to see is Brown’s passion for the game and emotion. When Brown buried a three-pointer to give Penn a brief 15-12 lead, this writer heard him yelling “Let’s go!” from his seats 10 rows over the Quakers’ bench.
Interior defense is a big-time problem right now.
Yale got basically anything it wanted inside on Saturday night. The Bulldogs wound up finishing 18-for-27 from two-point distance, good for a 66.7% field goal percentage inside the arc.
The Quakers did a decent job rebounding. They were only outrebounded by a single board despite Wolf posting a 24-point, 12-rebound double-double. But that doesn’t really matter when players like Yale senior forward Matt Knowling are able to go 7-for-8 around the rim.
Nick Spinoso is doing all he can, but the Quakers don’t have a second credible true big man right now that can help out on the defensive end.