It took four tries, but at long last, Penn men’s basketball lists itself in the winners' column.
On Tuesday night, the Quakers (1-3) traveled to Drexel (1-1) — a road trip that took them as far as the Market Street Wawa — seeking their first win of the season following losses to Iona, Missouri, and Towson. After getting out to a lead as big as 13 in the first half, the Dragons clawed back to as close as two in the second.
That tight margin came with 1:34 left to play, as the packed Drexel crowd was going wild and all momentum seemed to be in the Dragons’ favor. But in the first play out of the timeout, junior guard Clark Slajchert stepped up just behind the three-point line and drilled a triple from the top of the key to put Penn up five, silencing the Drexel faithful.
“They’d been going under their ball screens all game, so I knew I was going to have it,” Slajchert said. “They were giving it to me, so I knew when it came down to it, I could just kind of calm down, step behind the three, and knock down the shot.”
“He’s just a stone-cold killer,” Penn coach Steve Donahue added. “The moments aren’t too big. And I thought [to] call his number because it’s not a big deal to him. This is what he does and he’s very confident in his ability.”
The blow proved fatal for Drexel, as Penn finished ahead 64-59 en route to its first victory of the season.
Slajchert and fellow junior guard Jordan Dingle again were the offensive engines powering the team, as they combined for 37 of Penn’s 64 points.
Such a concentrated offensive output also arose from the rotation Penn utilized, which, for the first time all season, consisted of less than 10 players.
Another key for the Quakers was their effort to contain Drexel junior forward Amari Williams, who earned Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year last season and served as the focal point of the Dragons’ offensive scheme on Tuesday night.
For context: In Drexel’s first game against Old Dominion, the 6' 10" forward recorded seven attempts. In the first half alone against Penn, Williams recorded 10 field goal tries.
“You send a second defender, and his ability to find shooters is really good,” Donahue said. “I didn’t think we could afford to do that. So we were going to try and make him shoot over us. I thought we did a decent job, [but] he’s just that good.”
Tasked with guarding him was the trio of sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso, senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd, and senior forward Michael Moshkovitz, who were more or less able to hold their own, as Donahue indicated. The big man shot 8-14 from the field — below what he’s shot so far this season.
Moshkovitz, in particular, stirred problems for Williams, who Donahue credited for his elite defensive skill as well as his passing ability — on grand display at Drexel with a team-high five assists.
“[He’s] terrific, an elite defender,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how good a defender he is. But then he can score, and he’s a great passer. Our guys know, so if Mosh goes into the lane and [gets] overplayed, they know how good a passer he is.”
Still, with Williams as the Dragons’ main offensive thrust, the junior forward amassed 13 of their 22 points by halftime and finished the game with 20. It wasn’t enough, though, as Penn emerged with a win for the first time this season in four tries.