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Sophomore guard George Smith dribbles down the court during the game against Drexel at Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia on Nov. 15, 2022. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

This game marked the mid-point of Penn men’s basketball’s season, both numerically and symbolically. It was the 15th of 29 games the team will play, it began the team’s New Year, and it marked the Quakers’ first Ivy League contest. 

But at the end of the evening, it was junior guards Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert, the team’s top two players in the non-conference season, who powered Penn to a 76-68 victory over Brown.

On Monday night, Dingle and Slajchert showed everyone why they are the highest-scoring backcourt in NCAA Division I. Coming into the game, the two combine to average over 40 points per game, but the two combined for 51 against Brown, with Slajchert contributing 31, his second-highest of the season and career. 

“We do a good job of playing off each other,” Slajchert said. “As the season’s progressed, and we've played with each other more, we're learning about each other's games and how we can get better together and be more efficient.” 

He added that what makes them such an effective duo is that they can support each other even when one of them is struggling to make shots. 

Coach Steve Donahue further emphasized the fact that Dingle and Slajchert are unique because they can score in many different ways, making it hard for opposing teams to defend them. 

But despite an impressive final statline, Dingle’s game did not start out how he might have envisioned. He scored his first field goal with just under 6:30 left in the first half, and by halftime, was just 1-4 from the field with three turnovers.

Turnovers were an issue for both teams in the first period; the two sides combined for five giveaways before scoring a single point. Even though Penn (8-7, 1-0 Ivy) finished the half with nine turnovers and Brown 11, neither team was able to capitalize on the other's mistakes as they both scored just eight points off of these giveaways.

Donahue didn’t see the turnovers as emblematic of a larger issue, attributing them to “first game jitters and both teams playing really hard.”

Despite the miscues, the Quakers played well in the first half. Junior guard/forward Max Martz and sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso each had a bucket from the paint, and junior guard Andrew Laczkowski hit just his third three-pointer of the season. For Laczkowski, despite not seeing much of the court early in the season, he has seen his playing time increase to an average of 14 minutes over the team’s past three contests.

For Slajchert, Laczkowski‘s increased role is not surprising. He lauded Laczkowski's hard work and intangibles, saying that in games, “he does other things that maybe we don’t typically do if he’s not in the game.”

Under coach Mike Martin, Brown (7-7, 0-1) entered the game as the best defensive rebounding team in the nation, but it was the offensive rebounding that shone against the Quakers. They finished the contest with 16 offensive boards, while Penn mustered only six. Martin is a familiar face in Penn basketball, as he was an assistant coach from 2006-2012 before taking the reins at Brown.

Towards the end of the first half, Penn went on an 11-6 run, and by the break, the Quakers led 25-22, with Slajchert leading the way with 10 points, in just his second game back from injury. 

“I was excited to get back, but it was really just another game,” he said. “I got to my spots and I was making shots, but it's about our game plan and executing that.”

Out of the half, Dingle seemed to awaken from his hibernation, as he scored seven points in the first four minutes on the Bears. 

It was an offensive explosion in the second half as the teams battled back and forth. The Quakers shot 67% from the field in the second half, up from just 39.3% in the first. Slajchert and Dingle combined for the team's first 26 points of the second half, en route to finishing the half with 39.

Despite the best efforts of the Bears, led by sophomore guard Kino Lilly Jr., who contributed 28 points, and sophomore forward Nana Owusu-Anane, who finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, seven offensive, Dingle and Slajchert proved too much down the stretch. 

“Every game is different. Ivy League games are hard to win,” Slajchert said. “It’s going to be a different guy's night every night.”  

Penn will look to boost its momentum when it travels to Ithaca on Friday to take on Cornell (11-3, 1-0) at 7:00 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.