One team came in 0-3 in the Big 5, the other came in 3-0. But after Saturday afternoon, neither team has 0’s in their records anymore.
After coming into its game against Temple winless in the Big 5 since January 2020, Penn — with the program’s top two all-time leading scorers, A.J. Brodeur and Ernie Beck, in attendance — defeated the Owls 77-57. Though the Quakers trailed by two after the first half, a monstrous 24-4 run at the end of the game sealed a critical win for a team that desperately needed one heading into finals break. Notably, star junior guard Jordan Dingle set the record for most Big 5 points in a single season with 120 after finishing Saturday's contest with a game-high 30 points in addition to a career-high six assists.
“I've been at Penn since 1990,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I haven’t seen someone with his ability to score in so many different ways, not just at Penn, but in the Big 5 as a whole. He’s been amazing.”
With the Big 5 shutout in mind, Penn came out of the gates in the first 10 minutes with staunch perimeter defense on Temple’s best guards, sophomores Damian Dunn and Khalif Battle, forcing multiple tough threes, contested layups, and even a shot clock violation on the dynamic duo.
“Damien Dunn and Battle, those are two guards we have tremendous respect for,” Dingle said. “[That respect] was reflected in our defensive intensity. We know they can get hot, so it was really about how hard we could continue to compete.”
Penn’s defense also flashed greatness in the paint when Temple’s towering center, Jamille Reynolds, got position in the low post for what seemed to be an easy bucket against an undersized defender, but was simultaneously met by two high-flying Quakers for a contest and forced turnover.
The high-energy defense set the tone and kept Penn afloat late in the first half with six consecutive stops leading into halftime, before an untimely shooting foul on Dunn gave Temple the lead, 28-26.
The Red and Blue’s defensive energy was well met by the Owls, who forced some turnovers of their own while holding Dingle, the nation's third-leading scorer, to 3-9 shooting for only nine points and three assists in the first. Temple’s defense only allowed 37% from the floor during this period, but Penn stayed in the game with timely threes from senior guard Lucas Monroe and junior forward Max Martz.
Penn’s comeback truly started at the start of the second half, with the Quakers hitting their stride offensively off the back of defensive stops, thanks to timely passes from Dingle and sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso. On top of the constant ball movement, Monroe and Martz continued to step up in the absence of the offensively potent Clark Slajchert, shooting 9-15 from the field collectively. Martz especially impressed with multiple tough layups, contested threes, and a diving steal out of an Owl set play, ending the game with an impressive 14 points.
“We’re missing a 90-50-40 guy in Clark [Slajchert], which is crazy,” Donahue said. “But I think we can be an all-around better team and not a team that relies on Jordan and Clark so much — I think sometimes injuries allow you to see things maybe you didn’t appreciate before.”
Temple countered this offensive explosion with shot making of its own with Battle running the offense to the tune of 20 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The tension was high with 10 left to go, as Dingle traded tough buckets against a flurry of Battle free throws and assists as the score crashed toward a 53-53 tie. Dingle responded to Battle breaking out of his early shooting slump with a tough and-one that got the Palestra stadium on its feet and the score to 56-53.
“One of the things that has hurt us this season is not managing other teams' runs,” Dingle said. “Our team responded. I don’t get that and-one if I don't get a great pass, it’s a team game.”
The game slowed from there with the defense of both teams coming back to life, but it was the Red and Blue’s offense which dominated the rest of the way. Dingle and Spinoso continuously created good looks for the offense and were complimented by offensive putbacks when shots fell short. The lead grew to 68-54 with 3:27 left in the game, capped off by a monstrous poster dunk by junior guard Andrew Laczkowski that electrified the Penn bench. Though Laczkowski's on-court opportunities have been few and far between so far this season, he made the most of his time on Saturday, scoring seven points and hauling in a team-high nine rebounds over just 14 minutes.
“It is not just the dunk,” Dingle said. “[Andrew] is the best rebounder on the team on both ends. He always makes the best cuts, and always makes the best plays. He was great today.”
From that point on, it was all she wrote for the Owls, with Penn cruising to a 77-57 win over its final Big 5 foe of the season. Penn both avoided an 0-4 sweep in the Big 5 while also ending its opponent’s hopes of sweeping the conference 4-0, going into the 18-day break on a positive note.
“We didn’t get defensive stops,” Battle said. “In the second half, they came out and punched first and we never punched back.”
The Quakers will take a two-week hiatus from game action before facing Wilkes on Dec. 28 and then beginning Ivy League play once January rolls around.