BOSTON, Mass. — The Quakers fought valiantly, as they had all season, but couldn't get the job done in the end, falling to Yale in the Ivy Tournament semifinal.
Coming off three losses in its last four games, an interesting storyline was how Penn (12-16, 9-6 Ivy) would respond to being thrown in the fire against a physical Yale squad in the Ivy Tournament semifinal. Even with standout performances by sophomore guard Jordan Dingle and freshman forward Nick Spinoso, the Quakers' gusty effort was not enough, as they fell in the season rubber match by a score of 67-61.
"I am proud of these guys all the time, and would have been thrilled for them if we won," head coach Steve Donahue said. "We just didn't put the ball in the basket. We got open shots, it had nothing to do with effort, execution, or competing; we just didn't make enough shots, and unfortunately, the game came down to that."
Dingle and Spinoso were certainly up to the task of playing a physical 40 minutes, contributing over two-thirds of Penn's scoring output. Dingle scored 28 and Spinoso added in a career-high 14 on 5-for-8 from the field. This is nothing out of the ordinary for Dingle, who led Penn to this point through his efforts all season, but it certainly came as a stark contrast to his performance last go-around against Yale, where he finished with only 10 points.
"I'm very disappointed that I couldn't get it done," Dingle said when asked about how this loss would drive him next season. "I know within the team that whatever we do have this season we're a team that was capable of winning the league and winning the Ivy League tournament, and I'm going to have the same mindset going forward."
While Dingle has been Penn's star all season, Spinoso's performance marked a career day, scoring and rebounding in ways he hadn’t managed to since prior to Ivy League play. Early on, it looked like he’d be receiving his typical mid-first half minutes. But after knocking down a couple of tough shots and continued staunch defensive play, coach Steve Donahue rode the hot hand and Spinoso ended up being a key contributor for the Red and Blue in their most important game all year.
"Typically, Yale has two bigs, so this is a place where we can play Nick," Donahue said. "[He also had] a severe ankle injury and just hadn't been moving well over the last couple of weeks, [but] he got that spring back and is confident, and I felt that this was a good matchup [for him], and when Moshkovitz got in foul trouble, he took advantage of it."
Despite standout performances from Dingle and Spinoso, it was Yale's star senior guard Azar Swain that the difference in the matchup. In his previous two outings against Penn, he finished with 12 and 15 points, respectively, but on Saturday, he finished with 16 in the first half alone. When it was all said and done, Swain had scored 25 on 9-for-15 — including seven points within the game's final seven minutes.
Throughout the first half, the Quakers struggled to hold Yale’s offense in check. The Bulldogs as a team shot 50% from the field in the first half, and 5-for-8 from three-point range. Despite their defensive struggles, the Quakers found themselves down by only three points at the half, 32-29.
While Penn managed to only shoot 33.3% from the field, second-chance opportunities were key for the Red and Blue. Despite being a poor rebounding team throughout the season, the Quakers managed to gather nine offensive boards in the first half, leading to 11 second-chance points. Additionally, as he has done all season, Dingle kept the Quakers in the game scoring-wise, netting in 13 points on a variety of mid-range shots, drives to the basket, and backdoor cuts leading to layups.
The start of the second half was more of the same for the Quakers defensively. Swain and Yale senior guard Jalen Gabbidon were able to drive to the rim seemingly at will, and Penn’s rebounding prowess from the first half had seemingly vanished. The Quakers looked startled on offense with a shot clock violation and a Michael Moshkovitz turnover, and following Bulldog guard Matthue Cotton’s three-pointer to give Yale its largest lead at 44-35, Donahue called timeout to seemingly get his team back on track.
It seemed to work. Despite Yale still being able to score easily, Dingle would not let his team trail big. He scored eight consecutive points for Penn, including a masterful step-back three-pointer to bring the score to 50-45 in favor of Yale, with Dingle scoring 24 of those 45 points, leading Yale to call timeout.
After the Red and Blue were in another precarious position, trailing 55-47, Penn’s shooting seemed to wake up with a speedy 9-0 run to take a one-point lead. Back-to-back three-pointers by Nick Spinoso and Max Martz brought the Quakers to within two, and Spinoso’s finish off the glass tied the game at 55. Momentum seemed to be wearing a Red and Blue shirt, as the Penn section of the crowd started going wild, and all the momentum looked to be on Penn's side.
However, this was short-lived, as the Bulldogs, aided by clutch shooting from Swain and Gabbidon, went on a 12-5 run to close the game with a victory, ending Penn’s season.
It was an up and down year for the Red and Blue, who battled back from a 3-10 start to go 9-5 in Ivy League play. The Quakers, one of the youngest teams in the Ivy League, will figure to be back in the tournament next year, and might just have a good shot at winning it.