Penn men’s basketball put up its best offensive effort in more than a month on Saturday against hated Princeton. It got its best player, senior guard Clark Slajchert, back from injury. It got a dominant performance from junior forward Nick Spinoso.
It still wasn’t enough.
Trailing 62-61 with seven minutes to play, the Quakers gave up a 10-0 run to the Tigers, which was capped by an open Blake Peters three-pointer from the left wing as the shot clock expired with 4:15 to play. When the dust settled, Penn saw itself looking up at Princeton, 77-70, the same final score as the Tigers’ Ivy Madness semifinal victory over the Quakers a season ago.
The result thrilled a sellout crowd for Princeton (17-3, 5-2) at Jadwin Gymnasium and was a painful reminder of just how close Penn (9-13, 1-6) came to glory last March and just what this season could have been before Slajchert suffered a high ankle sprain in December.
Read on for the biggest takeaways from a frustrating night:
The difference in Penn’s offense with Slajchert on the floor is like night and day.
Slajchert’s overall numbers were relatively pedestrian by his standards — 10 points on 11 shots, a KenPom offensive rating of 85 points per 100 possessions — but it’s unfair to expect someone to return from a layoff of roughly six weeks and immediately dominate.
That efficiency number seems unfair to Slajchert, who is still working his way back into full game shape. By the eye test, Penn’s offense had way better spacing when he was on the floor.
Defenses need to respect Slajchert’s ability to create with the ball, and it seemed like that threat opened up opportunities for different types of offensive actions, such as a series of two-man sets between Spinoso and freshman guard Sam Brown.
It’s nice to have Slajchert back for the stretch run, but a 1-6 Ivy record and six-game losing streak may be too much for this team to overcome. The Quakers have zero margin for error now.
Penn got Nick Spinoso at his peak.
Spinoso casually put up a 19-point, 14-rebound double-double on Saturday night. Those 14 rebounds are a career high.
The junior’s post footwork and positioning looked stellar as Spinoso patiently set himself up for easy shots. He even had a solid 3-for-4 performance at the free throw line and a vicious one-handed hammer dunk on a fastbreak in the first half.
The only blemish on Spinoso’s game Saturday night was an 0-for-3 night shooting from distance. Opponents at this point are happy when Spinoso chooses to put one up from deep.
Penn’s three-point defense looks irreparable.
The Quakers allowed Princeton to shoot 38 three-point attempts Saturday compared to just 20 two-pointers. The Tigers hit 16 treys.
Penn is lucky Princeton didn’t hit more. The Red and Blue struggled to rotate out to Princeton’s secondary shooters all night long.
The Quakers are allowing their opponents to put up 43.3% of their field goal attempts from long distance, per KenPom. Only 29 teams in all of Division I allow their opponents to launch threes more often.
That number is the biggest reason — outside of Slajchert’s injury — that Penn’s season is on life support.