Quakeaways from Penn men’s basketball’s 71-64 loss to Brown

PHILADELPHIA — Brown struck the coup de grace on any realistic hopes Penn had of a miracle run to Ivy Madness on Saturday night.

The death blow at the Palestra came in the form of a killer 13-2 run after the Quakers had tied the game at 47 with about eight minutes to go in the game. The Bears’ Kino Lilly Jr. capped it off with a dagger three-pointer to make it 60-49 with 3:14 to play. Penn showed a bit of late life, but it wasn’t enough in what wound up being a 71-64 loss to Brown (7-17, 3-6 Ivy).

It is hard to believe that Penn (9-15, 1-8) has collapsed like this after a nonconference campaign that included a signature win over Villanova and plenty of indicators that the team was heading in the right direction.

But this is the bed the Quakers have made for themselves.

What could Penn fans take away from a miserable evening?

Clark Slajchert deserved better than this.

Slajchert’s high-ankle sprain — suffered on Dec. 30 during a brutal beatdown at the hands of Houston — was the tipping point in Penn’s season. The Quakers’ offense collapsed without the presence of its senior leader and hasn’t fully recovered since.

It was a real shame that Slajchert got hurt when he did. It looked like the guard was on his way to a truly special senior campaign. On Saturday, Slajchert dropped 32 on Brown, the third time he has eclipsed 30 points this season. He finished one point off his season and career high.

Slajchert dribbled his way into any shot he wanted in the lane against the Bears and finished with 10-for-14 shooting from two-point range and a KenPom offensive rating of 128 points per 100 possessions, which made him the only Penn starter to finish above the breakeven rating of 100 points per 100 possessions.

In a perfect world, Slajchert would be able to stick around campus for a fifth season and enter next year with real hype for Ivy League Player of the Year honors. Instead, he’ll be forced to grad transfer.

Frustration is beginning to boil over.

One point in favor of coach Steve Donahue is that he’s been able to build a strong program culture filled with high-character young men that play hard for one another.

A losing streak like this, though, takes a toll on everyone.

After one rough sequence in the second half, junior forward Nick Spinoso shouted, “That’s why we’re [expletive deleted] losing games” as the team huddled up during a break. The team moved on quickly with exhortations of “next play, next play,” but that was the first time this writer had seen that level of visible anger on the bench all season.

Penn is a young team. The Quakers’ roster has an average of just over a year of Division I experience. Only 47 of the 362 Division I programs have less experience. Even though this season isn’t going the way anyone wanted, most of the team will be back next year and will need to find a way to work through this together.

What happens if the team bottoms out?

KenPom currently projects Penn to finish 3-11 in Ivy League play. That would tie the 1956-57 Quakers for the worst Ivy season in team history.

Donahue was dealt a terrible hand this year for reasons largely out of his control. Jordan Dingle transferred to St. John’s (a decision he very well may regret at this point), while Max Martz retired. That left Donahue down two all-Ivy caliber players before the season started. He had this team in position to contend for an Ivy Madness berth despite all that until Slajchert went down.

A 2-12 or 1-13 record in Ivy play, though, would be truly unprecedented in program history.

Penn needs to finish strong to eliminate any questions about Donahue’s job security.

1 thought on “Quakeaways from Penn men’s basketball’s 71-64 loss to Brown”

  1. Penn could play a key spoiler role down the stretch. Of course, this isn’t the role Quakers fans would ever hope for, but with games upcoming against Princeton (the hated rival), Cornell, and Yale, something tells me this Penn team will have something important to say before it’s all said and done.

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