The past two games marked the first of three Friday-Saturday back-to-backs that Penn men’s basketball will play this season. And while the two games in quick succession have the downside of reducing the amount of rest a team can have, they provide an opportunity for a quick mental bounce-back.
This weekend, the Quakers (9-8, 2-1 Ivy) were able to capitalize on that quick turnaround as they split their weekend series, losing to Cornell 88-69 Friday before dominating Columbia 84-55 on Saturday.
“I thought we made great strides tonight,” coach Steve Donahue said after Saturday’s win. He complimented the team’s ability in “bouncing back from a real difficult last 10 minutes of that game … to focus and put that behind [them].”
On Friday night, after closely trailing the Big Red for the majority of the contest, the Quakers began to fall behind midway through the second half.
Despite having briefly led Cornell (12-4, 2-1) by one with roughly 12 minutes left in the game – following a tough three scored by junior guard Clark Slajchert – the Quakers' offense failed to convert for the next three minutes. This allowed the Big Red to open up a double-digit lead on a 15-2 scoring run.
“We were pretty good overall until about the 10 minute mark in the second half,” junior guard Jordan Dingle said. “Then we just fell flat.”
Hindering Penn throughout the entirety of the contest was a three-point shooting drought. Slajchert and junior forward Max Martz each went 1-3 from beyond the arc, and the rest of the team shot a combined 2-13. The Big Red’s defense did a strong job of contesting Jordan Dingle’s long-range efforts, resulting in him going 0-5 from deep.
Although Dingle and Slajchert weren’t able to do much damage from the three-point line, the scoring duo still led Penn offensively on the night. Dingle’s game-high 21 points kept the Quakers in striking range of Cornell for the entirety of the first half. Slajchert’s 15 points and 3 assists also helped Penn match the Big Red’s strong offensive display.
Cornell showed no restraint in punishing Penn’s turnovers throughout the night, scoring 30 points from the Quakers’ 19 giveaways. But on the other side of the ball, Dingle and senior forward Michael Moshkovitz combined for five steals and were key in pressuring the opposition's ball handlers. Despite this, the Quakers weren’t able to generate enough offensive chances from Cornell’s mistakes and only scored 9 points off of turnovers.
Penn was unable to match The Big Red’s dynamic team play. Cornell ended the night with more second chance, fast break, and bench points while the Quakers had to rely on getting tough buckets in the paint and converting free throws.
But on Saturday night, everything that went wrong for Penn against Cornell went right against Columbia (6-12, 1-2). The team shot a superb 15-23 from three. 12 Quakers were able to see action in the blowout victory, with Penn leading for over 35 minutes of game time.
The team moved the ball well, finishing the game with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.
“I think it’s a great way to show how much this team is developing and how much we’re continuing to grow day by day,” Dingle said. “We’re learning each other’s games and preferences, and we’re looking to create for one another."
But while Saturday’s win was ultimately a team effort, it was Dingle’s individual dominance that was one of the key takeaways from Saturday night.
Dingle, who entered Saturday as the third leading scorer in all of Division I, notched an effortlessly efficient 11-17 from the field, including 7-9 from three-point range.
But despite the impeccable performance, he was quick to attribute most of this success to his teammates.
“When everyone else is playing well, it creates more space for me,” he said. “So with everybody playing as well as they have, I’ve been able to take advantage of the opportunities that it has created.”
By the time he checked out with eight minutes to play, he had notched 33 points. This was his third 30-point game of the season, and his 13th straight game with at least 20 points scored.
“There’s certain games when he just gets that look, and tonight was one of them,” Donahue said. “He scores at all different levels and if he’s shooting the ball from three then it’s really difficult [to stop him].”
While the Quakers led for most of the first half, it was early in the second when they turned the offensive jets on. Penn began the second half on a 12-2 scoring run, and scored 25 of the first 33 points in the second half.
On Friday, with 10 minutes left to go, Penn was on the verge of giving up the run that would put victory out of reach. But at that same point on Saturday, the game was largely won, and Donahue began pulling starters.
Penn will next play at Dartmouth next Saturday at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.