Quakeaways from Penn men’s basketball’s 87-81 loss to Cornell

Penn did just about everything right against Cornell on Friday night at the Palestra.

The Quakers came out with more energy despite having no postseason hopes, forcing eight turnovers in the game’s first eight minutes. They hit 15 three-pointers on 33 attempts.  They built a 14-point lead in the second half.

It still wasn’t enough.

The Big Red staved off a Quakers upset bid thanks to the efforts of AK Okereke, who backed up into an uncontested go-ahead three-point jumper with 2:12 to go that put Cornell up for good in an 87-81 win. Okereke finished with a team-high 18 points for Cornell (21-5, 10-2 Ivy).

Penn (10-17, 2-10) got two clean three-point looks to tie from star freshmen Sam Brown and Tyler Perkins in the final two minutes, but neither went down. It’s been that kind of season for the Red and Blue.

What did Penn fans learn from a game effort against one of the best teams in the Ivy League?

The underclassmen are finishing the season strong.

Brown’s late missed three in front of the Penn bench was about the only thing that went wrong for him when he was shooting the basketball on Friday. The freshman finished with 15 points on five made three-pointers, draining several from NBA range.

Sophomore Cam Thrower scored in double figures for the third game in a row. After virtually disappearing from the rotation early in Ivy play, Thrower dropped in 15 points on five shots in a hyper-efficient performance. He’s making a late case for a starting role next season.

Perkins had a rough night shooting the ball, finishing 1-for-9 from the field. But his energy level and effort never dropped despite those struggles, which is a sign of progress considering how he would occasionally press and get frustrated with himself earlier in the season when shots weren’t falling.

This Penn team is young and going through a lot of growing pains. The hope is that the extended minutes this season will pay off in the form of a big offseason leap for Perkins and Brown.

Clark Slajchert will make some other program very happy next season.

Slajchert probably won’t make an All-Ivy team just because of how much time he’s missed due to that high ankle sprain which cost him most of the first half of conference play.

Had he gotten a full 14 games in, the senior likely would have earned First Team consideration. Slajchert finished with a game-high 22 points on 17 shots. He’s only been held to single digits twice all season, and one of those games was the Houston contest when he sprained his ankle.

He’s likely going to finish the season as the leading scorer in the Big 5, to boot.

Slajchert should be a hot commodity as a grad transfer in the offseason because of his three-level scoring ability, which should be able to translate to a higher level of competition.

It feels like this team is close, but constantly getting in its own way.

The sequence that best typified how Friday night went came with around 3:30 to go and Penn down just a single point. Junior Nick Spinoso came down with a tough rebound but kept pivoting under his own basket while being harassed by Cornell’s Guy Ragland Jr.

Spinoso panicked and chucked the ball over the timeline, just trying to avoid a 10-second violation. The pass was easily intercepted by Jake Fiegen and the extra possession turned into a Fiegen layup.

I’m highlighting this play not to rag on Spinoso, who was mostly excellent and flirted with a triple-double (seven points, 14 rebounds and eight assists). But it shows how the Quakers as a team seem to negate good plays with bad plays.

The ceiling for this team, when everything is working, is pretty high. Penn very nearly ran Cornell out of the gym on Friday.

But the Quakers are 2-10 in conference play because those stretches of top-end play aren’t happening consistently enough.

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