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Senior guard Bryce Washington drives against a Lafayette player during the game on Nov. 16, 2021 at the Palestra. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Don’t hit the panic button just yet. Dingle should be back next week.

In a game in which Penn (12-14, 9-4 Ivy) was missing its star player, sophomore guard Jordan Dingle, due to an injury suffered in practice, the team dug deep into its rotation but wasn’t able to pull out a win, losing 84-70 at Dartmouth (8-16, 5-8) on Saturday. Specifically, Bryce Washington, a senior guard who had played only small minutes in nine games this season, was a crucial asset for the Quakers, scoring a season-high 13 points on a season-high 25 minutes.

In his freshman year, Washington won four Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards, but since then hasn’t managed to get back on the court consistently. Early in his sophomore season, Washington went down with an injury that sidelined him the whole year, and his junior season was canceled due to COVID-19. 

This season, Washington hadn’t been able to fully crack the rotation, only playing limited minutes. With Dingle out, however, Penn’s game against Dartmouth served as the perfect opportunity for coach Steve Donahue to deploy Washington and allow him to return to being the player he was as a freshman in 2018-19.

“What I think people don’t understand is Bryce has been hurt so long,” Donahue said. “It’s just been hard to get him back in the lineup. He’s been doing this in practice. He’s obviously one of our better scorers, so I’m not surprised that when we have two guards down, it’s the next guy up, and I thought Bryce played terrific. Particularly because he hasn’t been playing much, I give him a ton of credit. I think he’s a very talented offensive player.”

At the 14:18 mark, Washington entered the game in place of junior guard Lucas Monroe, who finished with seven points. Just 34 seconds later, Washington netted a layup to put Penn in the lead 11-10, and on the Red and Blue’s next possession, he hit a jumper off a Michael Moshkovitz assist.

After another two baskets later in the half, Washington finished the period with nine points, tied for the most on Penn’s roster with sophomore guard Clark Slajchert.

Whether or not Washington's performance at Dartmouth will justify him returning to the rotation against Princeton next week will come down the upcoming week of practice that the team has.

“If we feel, after a week of practice, that Bryce is the guy, then sure, he’ll be back in the rotation,” Donahue said.

Slajchert, who started in place of Dingle, made the second start of his collegiate career after scoring the game-winning basket at Brown last week.

In just his second game as a starter — this time against his brother who plays for Dartmouth, Wes Slajchert, who had his senior day against the Quakers on Saturday — the sophomore guard scored a team-high 18 points.

During Penn's previous seven games, Dingle had been averaging 25.4 points and was the main thrust for the offense, both as a scorer and as someone who the opposing defense had to key in on, which allowed other players to get open. Without Dingle, Slajchert acted as the primary ball-handler and scorer, a role that he was largely able to fill but that didn't completely make up for the loss of Dingle as well as senior guard Jelani Williams, who was out again on Saturday.

“We were not the same offensively as we’ve been,” Donahue said. “Not having Jordan, obviously not having Jelani, had something to do with it.”

For Donahue, the uptick in action for players like Washington and Slajchert was essential, along with the rest of a bench that outscored Dartmouth’s 29-13, and served as an embodiment of the "next man up mentality" they’ve had to have recently with players being out all season.

“All these guys have played different times during the season because of COVID, injuries, and obviously trying to figure things out,” Donahue said. “Obviously, we’d like to have Jelani and Jordan back, and I think we have a really good group of guys in the rotation, but if we don’t, then it’s next man up like we saw today.”

Over the course of the game, Penn was rarely in the lead, only spending 1:38 in the driver’s seat, with all of that time coming in the early stretches of the game.

In the Quakers’ last matchup against the Big Green, which the Red and Blue took 78-68 at the Palestra, they were able to hold off Aaryn Rai, keeping him to 11 points over 31 minutes. This time, however, Penn struggled to contain the fifth-year forward, who scored a game-high 27 points on 11-15 from the field, in addition to grabbing 11 rebounds.

“Sometimes, guys gain confidence,” Donahue said. “He got [their] first five points of the game, and it’s his last home game. Some guys don’t play well in that scenario. Aaryn has always been one of the more talented offensive players in our league. At times, he’s probably been a little inconsistent, but today, he was playing great. I give him credit. I thought he earned his buckets, he made threes, which he hasn’t made all year, and when he got a chance to finish, he finished.”

Although the Quakers have already clinched an Ivy Madness berth, this loss will be a massive blow to their chances of reaching the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. With just a game remaining, Penn now sits a game behind the No. 2 Yale Bulldogs — who also lost on Saturday, theirs coming to Cornell — and a game and a half behind the No. 1 Princeton Tigers.

The Quakers will face those same Tigers next Saturday at the Palestra, as they prepare for a matchup that might determine their Ivy Tournament seeding.