There aren’t too many important trophies to be won in college basketball in November, but Cathedral Classic Champions sure has a nice ring to it.
On Thanksgiving weekend, Penn men’s basketball won all three of its games at the Palestra, handily defeating Hartford (3-6), Colgate (5-4), and Delaware (3-3) to improve to 5-4 on the year heading into Big 5 competition this upcoming week. The weekend marked the inaugural Cathedral Classic, in which all four teams competed against each other for three straight days. Though there is no official champion, Penn's sweep of the event makes them the de facto victors.
The tournament opened for the Quakers with a 75-55 victory on the night of Black Friday against the Hartford Hawks. And while Penn came into the game as a nearly 20-point favorite, the margin of victory — the Quakers’ largest of this young season — can’t help but inspire confidence.
On defense, despite tallying only two blocks and three steals, it was clear that Penn had clipped the Hawks’ wings. Hartford only had two scorers in double digits on Friday night, and shot barely over 30% from the field.
And on offense, Penn (5-4) shot lights out, hitting a dozen three-pointers and making nearly half of its shots from the field. Junior guard Jordan Dingle led the charge, going for 20 points, making four of his six shots from downtown and six of 11 overall. Penn’s second-leading scorer on the day was junior guard/forward Max Martz, who also had an efficient night, reaching 15 points on only ten shots.
What made these performances even more impressive is that Martz was on the court for only 24 minutes, while Dingle’s high-scoring night was achieved in a mere 18 minutes. Overall, 14 Quakers saw action on Friday.
“It was a team effort against Hartford,” junior guard Clark Slajchert said. “[We] did a good job sharing the load, and that’s how you’re able to win three games.”
On Saturday, Penn continued its shooting dominance, this time in an 81-69 triumph over Colgate. While this matchup was always going to be a tough one against the preseason Patriot League favorite, it also had special significance to both sides.
This weekend was a homecoming for Colgate head coach Matt Langel, who won two Ivy League championships as a player for Penn in the late 1990s, and two more as an assistant coach with the Quakers. Incidentally, his time with the Red and Blue overlapped with Penn coach Steve Donahue’s time as an assistant coach with the Quakers under the legendary Fran Dunphy.
But Langel’s return to the Palestra was upstaged by the shooting clinic put on by both Dingle and Slajchert. The Quakers’ two leading scorers this year imposed their will on the Raiders, combining for nearly 60 of Penn’s 81 points on 23-34 shooting from the field. Slajchert, in particular, had a standout night, with his 33 points marking a career-high for the junior guard.
But while Slajchert and Dingle accounted for most of Penn’s points, they weren’t the only Quakers making an impact. Do-it-all sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso registered eight assists and eight rebounds on Saturday evening.
“He just keeps getting better. He has a lot of potential and he’s just gotten better every day,” Slajchert said about Spinoso. “I think me … and our other guards, and even our wings, have gotten really good looks because of Nick.”
Spinoso himself admits that he values the non-scoring aspects of his skillset incredibly highly. When asked after Sunday’s game whether he valued his 18 points or nine assists more highly, he responded instantly.
“Nine assists, for sure,” he said. “That’s all credit to my guys.”
Going into Sunday, Penn had the chance to complete the sweep. But to do that, the Quakers would need to get past Delaware.
Both Dingle and Slajchert followed up Saturday’s showcase with 20-plus-point performances, with each knocking down four shots from long distance.
Despite playing big minutes in both Saturday and Sunday’s games, Slajchert tried to stay focused and not let the exhaustion get to him.
“Any time I get on the court, it’s like the adrenaline is flowing,” Slajchert said. “So even if I’m tired and if I have sore legs from yesterday, I usually feel pretty great.”
Dingle also hit what appeared to be the dagger, a deep three that put Penn up 15 with just over four minutes left to play.
But it wasn’t just Dingle and Slajchert making an impact for the Quakers. Senior guard Lucas Monroe notched nine rebounds and five assists, Spinoso scored 18 points with nine assists of his own, and Martz scored nine in 32 minutes.
However, each of them finished the game with four fouls, which Donahue saw as a positive, and a trait of a more aggressive team.
“In the past five seasons, we were in the top 5% in least fouls committed, and I didn’t want to be that team anymore,” Donahue said. “So especially with four fouls, for most guys I’d rather take as much time as I can and if they get a fifth, then I give them a sub.”
Compared to Penn’s team effort, the Blue Hens were clearly led by star guard Jameer Nelson Jr., the son of NBA veteran Jameer Nelson, who spent 14 years in the NBA, mostly with the Orlando Magic. Nelson played every second of Sunday’s game, scoring 30 points.
“He’s such a competitor, and he just keeps on going,” Donahue said of Nelson. “If you dare him to shoot, he makes them; if you over-help, he hits the open man.”
Following the weekend's competition, Slajchert, Dingle, and Nelson were named to the All-Tournament team of the Cathedral Classic, with Penn being the only school earning two players on it.
The Quakers' next matchup will be against St. Joe’s (2-3) on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at the Palestra, the first of four straight Big 5 matchups. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+ and NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus.