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Sophomore guard Jordan Dingle attempts to score a point while a Villanova defender tries to block during the game on Dec. 1 at the Palestra. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Down but never out.

The last time these teams faced off in the Palestra in 2018, Penn (3-7, Big 5 0-1) came away with a big 78-75 win in the Palestra, but a lot has changed since then. Penn men’s basketball dropped their opening Big 5 game against No. 6 Villanova (5-2, 2-1) by a score of 71-56. Notably, Penn's leading big men, junior Max Lorca-Lloyd and freshman Nick Spinoso, were both injured with boots on their feet during the game, a major detriment to the team's frontcourt.

“It’s pretty impressive, [their] physical, mental toughness,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I am pleased with how we performed over stretches and how we competed. It takes every ounce of us to compete against that kind of physicality and toughness.” 

Villanova senior Brandon Slater won the tip off against Penn junior Michael Moshkovitz, and the Wildcats scored the first points of the game with a pull up jumper from junior Justin Moore to make it 2-0, Villanova.

The Wildcats came out strong and held the lead for the rest of the game, excluding one tie score. 

Sophomore Jordan Dingle (who was questionable for the game due to illness) came away with the first points for the Red and Blue after being fouled on a drive inside. After missing the first free throw shot, he was able to sink the second that cut the lead in half, 2-1. Early into the game, Penn got down by a score of 6-1 after a strong Villanova run, but was able to tie the game at 9-9 with 13 minutes left in the game. 

“You watch certain teams and you prepare to play them, and you get caught up in all the good things they do, and that is why they are always a tough matchup for us, “ Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I think they’re a really good team, [we] couldn’t put them away, tough as hell. They hit tough shots in this place.”

Out of the media timeout, the Wildcats began to pull away and gained a 22-9 lead in a three-minute span. Penn finally responded with a three-pointer of their own, which came from junior guard Jonah Charles that cut the lead to 22-11. 

A few minutes later, Penn continued the runoff of two huge three-point knockdowns from sophomore forward/guard Max Martz to make it a 28-18 lead for the Wildcats with three minutes left in the half. 

With the clock winding down at the end of the half, Penn found Charles on the sideline for a three-pointer buzzer beater to make it a 33-21 game at halftime. 

Coming out of halftime, Dingle scored the first points of the half with a two-pointer to make it a 33-23 game, but the Wildcats responded with a 6-0 run in two minutes that put them up big. 

The Quakers would end up making a run of their own in the second half to cut the large Villanova lead and make it a 57-49 game with a little over five minutes left. However, they couldn’t seem to find an answer for graduate student Collin Gillespie, who ended the game with 26 points. For every point that Dingle would score, it appeared that Gillespie had an answer of his own, as Dingle ended the night with 21 points.

“It was an awareness of the situation,” Dingle said. “I recognized what the team needed, and I tried to do that whatever it is. Granted, I may not be feeling 100 percent, my teammates have my back, [and] my coaches have my back.” 

Villanova never gave up control to the Quakers and ended up going on a run of their own to extend their lead to 62-49 with three minutes left in the game. While the Quakers were able to cut the lead to 12 points, they finished the game down by 15, a tough loss for a team in need of momentum as they continue Big 5 play.

The Quakers will be back in action with another Big 5 matchup at Temple on Saturday, December 4th.