It was fun while it lasted.
After taking a 16-11 lead in the first half, Penn men’s basketball quickly fell behind Villanova, falling to the Wildcats (4-5, 2-1 Big 5) by a score of 70-59. Junior guard Jordan Dingle led the Red and Blue in scoring with 25 points, while freshman forward Cam Whitmore carried Villanova with 21.
“I thought we competed at a very high level for long stretches in a tough environment," coach Steve Donahue said.
The Quakers (5-7, 0-3) got off to a hot start, looking locked in as they stole away several offensive rebounds and forced numerous Wildcat deep misses in the first 10 minutes, leading them to an early five-point lead. Up to that point, Penn was clearly taking its opponent more seriously than Villanova was, but after the timeout, the Wildcats regrouped and hardly looked back.
During Penn’s early run, the Red and Blue’s biggest star surprisingly did not show up. With key offensive contributor Clark Slajchert out due to injury, Dingle was widely expected to carry the load — even more than he normally does — but he went the first 13-plus minutes without scoring, as junior forward Max Martz had eight early points on 4-4 shooting, finishing with 15 in the game.
"When you play Villanova, they switch everything, get in you, and you end up coming to a grind," Donahue said. "And you can't always do it, but eventually you end up playing like them. You end up backing down, dribbling, because they're not helping. And I thought Max, that's kind of his game, and I thought he got to certain spots and did it. He's a very good standstill shooter."
Villanova’s turnaround was led by the same thing that got it into its hole: the three-pointer. After making just three of their first 11, the Wildcats summarily drilled their next five, giving them a quick, ultimately insurmountable lead that came as the result of a 13-0 run. By halftime, Villanova led 36-26.
While there was only so much Penn could have done about the Wildcats’ streaky shooting, the Quakers were likely kicking themselves in the foot as they missed several easy opportunities, going just 2-10 on layups in the first half.
Penn held its own in the second half, cutting the lead to as low as six at one point, but the first half three-point barrage proved to be too much to overcome. While Penn was able to get some late offense going thanks largely to Jordan Dingle, who scored 16 consecutive Quaker points, the Red and Blue were never able to stop Villanova on the other side of the court, with the Wildcats seemingly getting to the charity stripe at will.
Despite playing impressively at times, the Quakers could have used Slajchert, who Donahue said is dealing with a bad bone bruise and is likely out until after Penn returns from its finals break.
Particularly impressive for the Wildcats was Whitmore, who was playing in his first career game at the Finneran Pavilion. He had the whole crowd standing on one put-back dunk over senior guard Jonah Charles.
"He won't be here for long," Donahue said, likely referring to Whitmore's NBA prospects.
With the loss, Penn has now dropped 18 of its last 19 matchups against the Wildcats — the lone win came in 2018 as the Wildcats were defending a national title — and has still never won at Villanova, falling to 0-12 on the road against its Main Line foe.
Penn will have just one chance to avoid an odious 0-4 mark in the Big 5, which would be the second consecutive such season. That chance comes in the form of Temple (6-4, 3-0) at the Palestra this Saturday at 1:00 p.m., where the Owls will be in the completely opposite position — looking to close off a perfect Big 5 run.