No Dingle, no problem.
In its first matchup in team history, Penn men's basketball (7-7) outshot and outworked Wilkes University (7-5), resulting in a dominant 93-61 victory.
Despite it being the Quakers' first introduction to the Colonels, the team's coach — Izzi Metz — was a familiar face to some. Metz served as assistant coach to Penn coach Steve Donahue during his time at Cornell.
“It sucks going against someone you know,” Donahue said. “I’ve learned so much from him and I owe him a lot. I’ve been a DIII player before, and I know how tough it is in these environments to coach.”
The Red and Blue played without star junior guard Jordan Dingle, but saw the return of junior guard Clark Slajchert — who missed the last three games due to a knee injury — and sophomore guard George Smith, who returned from a broken nose. The team didn’t skip a beat against their undersized foe, going up 20-4 in the early minutes of the game due to an explosive early performance by senior guard Jonah Charles.
Charles hit three corner three-pointers within the first five minutes of the game and sunk three free throws after being fouled while going for his fourth. This performance was complemented by Slajchert scoring four points in the first three minutes while also racking up a few steals to generate transition points.
“It was great to have him back,” Charles said. “We want [Slajchert] to be healthy and aggressive because if we want to win a championship, we are gonna need him to play aggressive. Him and George Smith.”
From there, Penn inserted its backups for an extended period, resulting in a three-pointer from freshman guard Cam Thrower and a physical put-back by junior guard Andrew Laczkowski. Wilkes’ Drake Marshall did his best to keep the Colonels in the game with timely layups complemented by a Cayden Merrifield three. But once the Penn starters reentered the match, the tide was shifted for good, with the first half ending in a 46-24 score in Penn's favor.
“We have the longest break in all of college basketball,” Donahue said, “It’s important for us to stay ready. I love our depth and I’m happy a lot of our team got to go out and play hard.”
The start of the second half was hard to watch for Colonel fans as the Red and Blue momentum kept rolling, starting with a fadeaway from senior guard Lucas Monroe and eight straight points from junior forward Max Martz to pull Penn ahead to a comfortable 30-point lead. Wilkes tried everything from set plays and top-of-the-key screens, to tough fadeaways and back-to-the-basket play, but nothing could break through the swarming Penn defense. The Colonels would end the game silently, accruing a majority of their second half points once the Quaker reserves had entered the game.
At the sound of the final buzzer, it was Charles who lead the Quakers in scoring — tying his career high of 18 points. Thrower followed suit, setting his own career high with 13 points. Regarding the mystery of the missing Dingle, Donahue had confusing notes, but didn’t seem afraid of a long-term absence.
“I don’t know what exactly I’m allowed to say,” Donahue said. “All I know is that his trainer said he shouldn’t play today, and that’s all I’ll say.”
The game acted as a much needed winter warm-up for Penn, an interruption to its long winter break, but nevertheless a final opportunity to shake off the rust before the all-important Ivy League season. The Quakers performed admirably in their last Ivy League run by claiming third in the conference, but fell short of a championship after losing to a more experienced Yale team.
“We got to take the season one game at a time,” Donahue said. “We can’t look past Brown. Fans are interested in our confidence in winning long term, but as a team we need to focus on practicing hard and competing against the opponent in front of us.”
Penn’s next game comes on Jan. 2 at Brown, and if the team performs anything like it did against Wilkes, extending its win streak into the Ivy season should come with ease.