NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The last time the Quakers played Yale, Penn lost a winner-take-all game in the Ivy League Tournament. Saturday's match didn't have as high of stakes, but felt eerily similar to that game.
Both Penn (9-11, 2-4 Ivy) and Yale (13-6, 3-3) came into Saturday with something to prove after starting the Ivy League season 2-3. With Harvard, Dartmouth, and Brown sitting at 3-3, the contest promised to be a crucial waypoint in both teams' quests to the Ivy League Tournament in March.
But now, following a 70-63 defeat, the Quakers have lost three in a row, remain out of Ivy League Tournament contention, and continue to nurse several injuries.
“In this league, everybody is chasing to get to the tournament and win a regular season league championship,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Both teams really competed. I think the first half was pretty good execution on our part. I just thought that particular stretch in the second half where we had six turnovers really hurt us.”
Penn was fresh off a home loss to Princeton on Monday, when the team struggled to convert. This time, the Quakers got off to a hotter start, going up 6-0 early despite the hostile crows at John J. Lee Amphitheater. But after a quiet start, Yale found its rhythm, including with sophomore guard Bez Mbeng and senior forward EJ Jarvis making multiple three-pointers each.
Early on, Penn was timid to shoot from deep, after missing their last 25 threes in games against Dartmouth and Princeton. It was the opposite for the Bulldogs who had consistent scoring from long range from a wide variety of players.
“The outlier was the zero,” Donahue said about the team’s recent history from the three-point line. “They protect the paint and try to limit you to one shot so if there’s something you get occasionally is a challenged shot from the perimeter.”
Junior guard Jordan Dingle took it into his own hands to finally end the Quakers' three-point drought. He made Penn's first three shots from deep, including one where he got fouled and made the resulting free throw. Throughout the first half, he carried the Quakers’ offense, scoring 14 consecutive points for the Quakers at one point.
But while the offense struggled, the Quakers' defense showed up in the first half. After letting up 70 in losses against Dartmouth and Princeton, they were able to make huge plays on the defensive side to keep the Bulldogs from scoring easy layups. From huge blocks from senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd to fights for defensive rebounds, they were able to keep Yale at a mere 11 points with 10 minutes left in the first half.
After Penn’s hot start to Yale’s cold one, the Bulldogs came back to tie it 35-35 with a minute left before halftime — until senior guard Jonah Charles silenced the Yale crowd with his first three of the night.
The second half did not start off well for Penn, though. Donahue had to call a timeout a minute in after Yale hit two threes to take Penn’s three-point lead and make it its own. Even after that, they had sloppy miscues like going out-of-bounds and sending a pass to a man that was not there. It was all enough to let Yale’s lead widen to six points with 17 minutes left of play.
Yale continued to hold down the lead as the half progressed, especially with Dingle not scoring well to start the half.
The sloppy play that got the Quakers into the hole persisted throughout the half. On several consecutive plays, the Quakers turned the ball over, even including an accidental pass to their opponents and letting the ball slip out of their fingertips.
“Each of the games have been very similar in the sense that the ones we led in are the ones we lost,” Donahue said. “I think we’re playing really good for 30 to 35 minutes, but we’re not playing 40 minutes, particularly on the road.”
Offensive foul calls on Dingle and sophomore center Nick Spinoso — the latter who finished with three — brought the Quakers to seven fouls with more than seven minutes of play left.
Those fouls would come back to haunt Penn even more, giving away free foul shots to a Bulldog offense that made nearly all of theirs in comparison to Penn.
Penn and Yale exchanged back-to-back-to-back threes to pull Penn within two, standing at 62-60 with less than two minutes left, but two consecutive drives to the basket for Yale extended its lead to seven points.
A record like this would scare most, but Donahue still has steadfast belief in this team.
“I believe in this group. The way we fought in all these road games, I’m really happy. We just got to execute better,” Donahue said. “I love our fight, I thought we competed in all those road games, and now we got to go home and make sure we learn from all these road games and take advantage of six of seven at home.”
Penn will next play its final non-conference game of the season at Hartford on Monday. The game is at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Hartford Hawks All-Access.