On Tuesday night, Penn men’s basketball (2-4) traveled to the not-so-distant lands of Easton, Pa. to face up against Lafayette (1-5).
And after a tight game against the Leopards that went to overtime, Penn can celebrate Thanksgiving grateful for a 74-68 win.
You would think the Quakers were already in a Thanksgiving food coma by the way they opened up the game. On their first few possessions, the Quakers lacked offensive focus, turning the ball over twice within the first three minutes and not getting any offensive rhythm going.
Meanwhile, Lafayette started hot out the gate. The Leopards struck first, going up 9-0 in the opening three minutes. Their initial run was led by senior forward Leo O’Boyle, who finished the half with 13 points. Lafayette’s strategy relied on the deep ball in particular, taking 14 three-pointers by the end of the half.
Penn’s offense did not light up immediately, even after junior guard Jordan Dingle’s six quick points in the first four minutes to open the game. At the end of the first half, the Quakers trailed 29-27 and stayed in the game mainly because Lafayette also struggled offensively.
“Right now, we’re still finding our way a little bit. I thought we had good looks that typically go in, but we just got to be consistent from the three,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “We could have more flow to our offense. We need to figure out how to move the ball — don’t let it stick — and make sure we get a good look.”
An equally slow offense by Lafayette continued into the second half thanks to Penn’s defense. Junior forward/guard Max Martz contained O’Boyle in the second half, who was forced into a costly fourth foul with 10 minutes left in the game. Additionally, Lafayette's offense, notable for its emphasis from behind the arc, was stopped in its tracks, going 8-31 for 25.8% from three.
“I’m very pleased with our defense so far,” Donahue said. “I want to keep growing our defense.”
That defense got Penn into the bonus early, which led to key points — including Martz getting a three off a missed foul shot. Penn did struggle from the free throw line, though, finishing with only a 60% percentage from the charity stripe.
Regardless of the free throw percentage, Penn started showing up on the offensive side of the ball. Martz scored 12 points in the second half – and finished with 18 – and senior forward Michael Moshkovitz put up 10 points and three assists of his own.
“We had good offensive ball moves and limited dribbles,” Donahue said. “I thought in particular, Moshkovitz really helped us get the ball moving. And Jordan [Dingle] and Clark [Slajchert] really read the defenses well and were really aggressive and found the open man, which just made the offense run better.”
The output from Martz and Moshkovitz, two of Penn’s big men, came in part due to Penn’s offense adapting as the game wore on. With their threes not dropping — the Quakers finished with a mere 22.7% three point percentage — Penn focused more on scoring in the paint. With five minutes left in the contest, Penn had outscored Lafayette in the paint 32-14.
But Lafayette woke up as well. While O’Boyle was stopped by Penn, other players like junior guards Jon Brantley and Ryan Zambie stepped up to the plate after coming off the bench. Lafayette’s 7-foot sophomore center Justin Vander Baan also made his presence known with key rebounds and baskets — and his left elbow that gave sophomore guard George Smith a bloody nose.
Smith had to sit on the sidelines for the final seconds of regulation as O’Boyle sunk the free throws to send the game to overtime — the first overtime of Lafayette coach and 2000 Penn basketball alum Mike Jordan’s coaching career.
It was also the first overtime loss of Jordan’s coaching career.
He was stopped by Penn’s own Jordan: Jordan Dingle.
Dingle, who struggled all throughout the game after coming back from a leg injury that sat him out at West Virginia, did what most Penn fans expect him to do: score. He put up the first seven points for the Quakers in overtime, surging them them to a 68-62 lead. In total, he racked up nine overtime points and 22 total after a slow start.
Those scores were enough to get the Quakers a 74-68 win — and some momentum going into the Cathedral Classic, where Penn will face off against three different teams in the Palestra Friday through Sunday.
“My confidence [is] in this group that we’ll figure out the offense. And I’m really pleased with the defense,” Donahue said. “We’ll hopefully grow from this and get ready for these next three games.”