Good teams win. Great teams cover.
On Wednesday night, Penn men’s basketball was a great team.
With seconds left and Penn — which came in as a 13.5-point underdog — down 14, junior guard Jordan Dingle found fellow junior guard Andrew Laczkowski — who hadn’t scored in over eight months — for a corner three that narrowed Villanova’s lead to 11, and made Penn alumni wallets everywhere just a little bit wider.
Of course, Penn would much rather have been a good and great team Wednesday night. An 11-point loss — Penn’s third straight defeat, all coming in Big 5 play — is never a great result, but the Quakers showed sides of themselves that weren't always evident in recent games.
If I said that, against Villanova, Dingle was held scoreless until the 6:22 mark of the first half and junior guard Clark Slajchert was out with a knee injury, you wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that the Quakers would be down double — if not triple — digits, within just a few minutes of play.
But with those same parameters, Penn played at a packed Finneran Pavilion and at one point held an 18-14 advantage. Junior forward Max Martz carried much of the early scoring burden, contributing almost half of Penn’s first 16 points, while Penn contained Villanova defensively, in large part thanks to senior guard Lucas Monroe, arguably the Quakers’ biggest weapon on that end of the court.
Across all five of Penn’s wins thus far, Slajchert and Dingle have accounted for a whopping 53.4% of the Quakers' points, and across the entire season, it jumps to 56.6%. Come Ivy League play, that’s just not sustainable. You need guys like sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso — who had a breakout stretch post-Thanksgiving, but only played 16 minutes on Wednesday — and Martz to step up, and in the first half, the latter did just that.
Though Dingle — who played all 40 minutes – finished the first half with just a pair of free throws, he still managed to help the offense flow and was a force on the boards, notching a season-high nine rebounds when the final buzzer rang.
But a switch flipped at halftime, as the star guard had one of the best stretches of his Penn career. Over roughly five minutes towards the end of the game, when his team needed it badly, Dingle ripped off 14 straight Quaker points, hitting jumpers and getting to the rim and charity stripe with ease. Across the entire second half, he had a monster 23 of Penn’s 33 points.
Dingle currently ranks third in all of NCAA Division I with 23.5 points per game, just ahead of Wooden Award favorite Zach Edey. Given this ranking and that we've seen his ability to take over games again and again, it was no surprise watching his second-half performance on Wednesday.
But what was really encouraging was that, at least in the first half, it seemed like he had help, too. And though Slajchert will likely be out again in Penn’s final game before finals break against Temple, he and Dingle together are a much more potent threat than just one or the other.
Of course, some positives are there — it’s just that the record is not. The Quakers have now dropped their first three Big 5 matchups, extending a losing streak within the Philadelphia group that goes back to January of 2020. The games don’t technically count for anything — though that might change soon — but with just two contests left until Ivy play begins, it’s now or never.
MATTHEW FRANK is a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College junior from Miami studying English. He can be reached at email@example.com.