BOSTON, Mass. — March Madness berth on the line. Will the Red and Blue be able to deliver?
Penn men’s basketball will be in Boston this weekend for the Ivy League postseason basketball tournament. The third-seeded Quakers will open up in the semifinals against the second-seeded Yale Bulldogs at 2 p.m. Saturday in Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion.
Regardless of who the Quakers’ opponent is, their offense will almost certainly run through guard Jordan Dingle. The sophomore from Valley Stream, N.Y., is having a breakout season, leading the team and conference in scoring with 20.6 points per game while also adding in 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
In two close matchups against Yale this year, however, it has been a tale of hot and cold for the First Team All-Ivy selection. In the Palestra on Jan. 22, Dingle scored 31 points on an efficient 13/24 shooting to pilot Penn to a 76-68 major conference win that aided in them being in the position they are in this weekend. However, in their second matchup at Yale, he could only muster up 10 points in a poor 4/20 shooting performance, as the Quakers fell to the Bulldogs 81-72.
“I think our team gameplan is a little bit different tomorrow, so I’m just going to go out there and execute as best as I can,” Dingle said when he was asked about how he was anticipating going against Yale’s new-look defense from the last matchup.
Outside of Dingle, Penn hopes that fifth-year senior guard Jelani Williams, who missed the last three games due to a finger injury suffered Feb. 12 at Harvard, can return to provide them with an extra scoring boost. Williams said he “feels good and ready to go,” a sign of good news for the Quakers. In his first collegiate season, Williams is cherishing the opportunity to finally experience “what [he has] dreamed about since committing to [Penn].” The Red and Blue also hope that sophomore guard Clark Slajchert, who shot a strong 62.5% for the field while averaging 15.5 points per game in their first two contests with Yale, can replicate or exceed that average tomorrow.
Penn’s season has not been without adversity, however. The Quakers started off 3-10, including three tough losses against ranked opponents Florida State, Arkansas, and Villanova, and only being able to play nine home games this year, the fewest out of any of the tournament’s participants.
Head coach Steve Donahue, making his fifth Ivy Madness appearance with Penn, missed last week’s game against Princeton due to COVID-19 symptoms, and had to show his team film clips of games and practice this week via Zoom. Donahue is still very confident in his team, however, and believes they left a lot on the table in their last matchup with the Bulldogs.
Donahue also believes that Yale will pose a tough matchup for the Red and Blue because of their physicality.
“They do such a great job playing two bigs that will dominate the glass [in Matt Knowling, and EJ Jarvis],” he said. “If you don’t answer the bell, with the physicality, you’re going to have [to deal with] two great seniors [Jalen] Gabbidon, and [Azar] Swain that are lead scorers in this league.”
The Bulldogs offensively are led by their guards, Swain, who averages 18.9 points per game to rank second behind Dingle in conference scoring, and Gabbidon, who torched the Quakers with 32 points in their last matchup. Limiting the scoring output of Yale’s backcourt will be crucial for the Red and Blue to advance past tomorrow’s game.
The winner of this game will go on to face either Princeton or Cornell in Sunday’s final, which the Quakers hope to end with their first March Madness berth since 2018.