A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. On Saturday, Penn men’s basketball took its first in dominant fashion, as the Quakers embarked on what they hope will be a monumental season.
Though it will not count towards their official record, the Quakers defeated the Daemen Wildcats, who made the trip from Amherst, N.Y., by a score of 74-41 at the Palestra in the first of their two preseason scrimmages. Earlier in the week, the Red and Blue were tabbed as the preseason favorite for this year’s Ivy League title, and in their first organized action of the season, they undoubtedly looked the part.
After starting the game with a veteran group that included four seniors, Penn shifted to a lineup brimming with youth, one that featured four sophomores and one freshman — guard Cam Thrower.
Penn was potent on the defensive end, flying around the court and forcing turnovers and bad shots galore. In the end, the Wildcats turned the ball over 10 times, double the Quakers’ five, and shot just 33% from the field to Penn’s 45%. A cluster of air balls typified Daemen’s offensive showing, as the group was unable to crack the Red and Blue’s defensive front from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Coach Steve Donahue also lauded the team for their defense around the basket, letting up just six points in the paint in the first half.
Daemen was able to hang around initially, mostly thanks to a spell of cold shooting from Penn. The Quakers’ two leading three-point marksmen from last season, Max Martz (35.6% from three in 2021) and Jonah Charles (39%), each missed their first attempt from beyond the arc, and the team started 0-6 from downtown before eventually converting its first triple roughly seven minutes in.
Martz did not see much action in the early portion of the game, but Charles played a total of 26 minutes, and was the engine behind Penn’s offensive attack. He was assertive with the ball, pulling up from three and slicing to the basket in decisive fashion. For much of the contest, Charles looked like the best player on the floor, ultimately finishing with 25 points on 8-13 shooting, including a scorching 6-11 from deep.
“First game, there’s a little bit of nerves starting off the game,” Charles said. “But as soon as I hit the first one off the and-one, to see some free throws fall in, I think that was really important for the confidence, not just for myself, but for the whole team.”
The shot that Charles is referring to also sparked the late-first half run that proved to be Daemen’s demise. With 11:40left in the first half, Penn held just a 10-9 advantage, and the seeds of doubt that had been planted by the team’s poor shooting early in the game were beginning to sprout. But Charles had other ideas.
“Once I hit that, everyone started to make some shots ...” Charles said. “Someone had to step up today, and it could have been any of us. ... I saw we were struggling a bit early on, and I just felt like I had to take it to myself to tell the team to take that lid off the basket.”
Charles nailed a three-pointer and got the foul to boot with 11:40 to go in the first half, converting a four-point play that marked the beginning of the end for the Wildcats. From there, the Quakers went on a 26-12 scoring run, mounting a lead that they would not relinquish. And though that portion of the game was certainly not as lengthy as the season at large, Charles’ first step was just as crucial.
“Once I hit that, I’m just telling our team ‘We’re here, we got one to go, and now let’s just keep it rolling’ and we did just that for the rest of the half,” Charles said.
Jordan Dingle, Penn’s leading scorer from a season ago, did not see any action in the victory. The former All-Ivy first teamer was in a walking boot and sweatpants, looking on from the bench as he nursed a foot injury.
“We’re not sure exactly what’s going on,” Donahue said of Dingle’s status. “It could be something serious, it could be something relatively minor. We just don’t know at this time.”
The Quakers’ Ivy League title aspirations start and end with Dingle. Without him, they will likely end. The importance of his status cannot be overstated heading into a season in which he is one of the favorites to win Ivy League Player of the Year.
Fellow junior guard Clark Slajchert also did not suit up for the exhibition. Sophomore forward and center Gus Larson, who is listed at 6'10", saw extended action against the Wildcats after serving in a reserve role during his freshman year.
The team will have a week off before the Red & Blue Scrimmage, an intrasquad game that pits members of the Quakers against one another.
In these initial stages of the year, when wins and losses are not written in stone, the most important thing the team can focus on is preparing for the greater challenges to come and finding its rhythm. Missing arguably their two best players on Saturday, the Quakers still have some ground to cover, but the performance suggests they'll be ready once at full strength again.