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Senior Jelani Williams dribbles the ball towards the net while fighting the George Mason defense during the away game on Nov. 11. Credit: Nicholas Fernandez

It seems that Penn men’s basketball may have left a piece of itself in Tallahassee, Fla. this Wednesday.

After going toe to toe with Florida State for the first half of their first game in over a year and a half, the Quakers came apart down the stretch, falling to the 20th-ranked team in the nation by 35 points. Their struggles continued on Friday in Fairfax, Va. when Penn (0-2) lost to George Mason (2-0), 87-66.

The Quakers got off to a slow start, with only two points in the first five minutes of the game. Meanwhile, the Patriots jumped out on a 14-2 opening run, shooting 55.6% from the field and 43.8% from the three-point line in the first half. They also out-rebounded the Quakers in the first half, racked up 25 points off of turnovers compared to Penn’s 12, and made 67% of their free throws, while Penn shot 33% from the line. At the half, the Quakers trailed the Patriots by a score of 43-27.

"I think teams are trying to take us out of our offense," said senior guard and captain Jelani Williams, who has suffered three ACL tears in his collegiate career. "They know that's one of the things we do best -- move the ball, share the ball, cut. So we just have to figure out ways to be a little more creative with our offense and avoid the turnovers."

Junior guard Jonah Charles proved to be a bright spot for the Quakers, scoring 18 points and connecting on six of his 12 three-point attempts. Charles spearheaded a brief run for Penn at the beginning of the second half, but the Patriots quickly answered with a few triples of their own to re-extend their lead. 

Junior forward Josh Oduro led George Mason in scoring, but four Patriots starters — including junior guard Xavier Johnson, graduate student guard DeVon Cooper, and graduate student forward D’Shawn Schwartz — notched double-digit performances.

The Atlantic 10 team started and finished hot, ending the night shooting 56.4% from the field and 46.2% from distance. With the Quakers shooting significantly below both those percentages, Penn proved no match for the Patriots.

"Tonight we got off to a bad start," coach Steve Donahue said. "I give them credit. I love how they played. I thought they played well Tuesday night. They've got really good older players that played a lot of college basketball, and they're doing a great job with them."

Additionally, sophomore guard Jordan Dingle added on to his 23-point outing against the Seminoles with 20 more points on seven-of-22 shooting, continuing to build his case as the successor to former standout AJ Brodeur as the Quakers’ go-to scorer.

“He’s one of the only guys who have played college basketball on the whole team," Donahue said. "I think he felt he had to do a little more than usual. He played really hard, took some hard ones, but it’s really a product of where we’re at right now after the pandemic, and most of the kids, even our older guys, having never played college basketball. I think he’s just trying to do too much. He knows it, he’s a great player. And I always appreciate that he went down fighting.”

The same couldn't be said for junior center Max Lorca-Lloyd, who saw limited minutes for the second straight game as a result of early fouls. As a result, freshman center Nick Spinoso and junior forward Michael Moshkovitz saw increased playing time. Moshkovitz converted on both of his three-point shots. 

The loss brings Penn’s all-time record against George Mason to 1-4, ending the Quakers' one-game winning streak started back in 2018. 

Penn will look to earn its first win of the young season in the final game of a three-game road stretch when they visit Bucknell University on Sunday. Next Tuesday, the Red and Blue return home for the season opener at the Palestra, taking on Lafayette. 

"For us, it's about peeling the layers back and continuing to grow through this whole season," said the D.C.-area native Williams, for whom it was a homecoming game of sorts. "When we get to the point where we're in Ivy play and when we get into March, we want to hit our stride and play like the best Penn team we can be."