PRINCETON, N.J. — Last week, Penn men’s basketball came into Jadwin Gymnasium and put up one of its best halves of basketball all season before squandering a lead in the second half and falling to Princeton in overtime. On Saturday, the game was different, but the result was the same: the Tigers defeated the Quakers.
In the semifinal of the Ivy League Tournament, Penn lost 77-70 to their northern rivals. Despite 11 lead changes, nine ties, and a one-possession game with under a minute left, Penn couldn’t execute in crunch time, while Princeton made crucial free throws down the stretch.
The Quakers’ (17-13, 9-5 Ivy) season is now over, while Princeton (20-8, 10-4) will face Yale tomorrow in the Tournament Championship game with a bid to March Madness on the line.
“It’s a difficult way to end your season,” coach Steve Donahue said postgame. “I thought that [with] the level of effort that [the team gave] I couldn’t ask for more. Just give Princeton credit, they finished the job down the stretch.”
In the game’s first moments, Princeton seemed uncharacteristically flustered by Penn’s defense. The Quakers scored the first five points, all off Tiger turnovers.
Despite Princeton having the 14th-best rebounding margin in the country, the Quakers held their own on the glass, and each team had 14 rebounds in the first half. But on nine offensive boards between the two teams, the squads combined for just six second-chance points.
In this first half, Penn’s offense was largely driven from long range; the Quakers started 4-8 from deep. Princeton could not match that, shooting only 4-14 from behind the arc. But the Tigers were able to bounce back from their early struggles, clawing their way into their first lead at 27-25 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
This was largely due to the dynamic duo of Tosan Evbuomwan — who was recently named first-team All-Ivy — and Ivy League Men’s Rookie of the Year Caden Pierce. Each of them had 10 points in the first period, while no other Tiger had more than three.
“We tried to mix it up with [Evbuomwan], giving him the physicality of [sophomore guard George Smith] and the length of Lucas [Monroe] and Max Martz and Max Lorca-Lloyd,” Donahue said. But “that kid is such a good all-around basketball player, and he makes everyone around him so much better.”
But Penn has a superstar of its own — Ivy League Men’s Player of the Year Jordan Dingle — and after his team fell behind, the junior guard shone. In short order, he finished an alley-oop from Monroe, nabbed a steal, and made a layup to put the Quakers back up by two.
Dingle finished with only 19 points — below his season average — but postgame, Donahue complemented his performance, saying that Princeton’s defense was “so aggressive with him, and [for Dingle] to thread the needle for six assists [and] one turnover when they’re showing that much attention to him just shows you another part of his game.”
Late in the first half, Princeton briefly reclaimed a lead until sophomore forward/center Nick Spinoso threw down a thunderous dunk to give Penn a one-point advantage going into halftime. Throughout the game, Spinoso was a force in the paint — scoring 15 points, many of them off feeds from Dingle into the post.
“They were leaving their center out to almost double me at times, and I just have to continue to make the read,” Dingle said. “Nick and Max Lorca-Lloyd kept making great plays and catching the ball and finishing.”
The second half saw Princeton convert many of the perimeter looks they missed during the first. Zach Martini started 3-4 from deep, and the team as a whole went 5-10 in the period.
But Penn kept fighting, and a three from Clark Slajchert — who finished with 17 points — tied the game at 50 with 12:08 to go.
As the match ticked under two minutes, both squads seemed to be nearly evenly matched and always had an answer or counter for what the other was going to do.
That was until Spinoso committed an offensive foul with under 90 seconds left on the clock and Princeton found itself with the ball up one. It was here that Princeton’s dominance on the glass reared its head. The Tigers pulled down back-to-back offensive boards, and Evbuomwan scored to put Princeton up three with 30 seconds left.
Dingle’s potential tying three-pointer was no good, and Pierce pulled down the ensuing rebound. At the line, he hit both free throws to ice the game, giving the Tigers a two-possession lead they would not relinquish.
“We just compete for 40 minutes, that’s our goal,” Slajchert said. “And I thought that we competed for a little less than 40 minutes [today]. That was why we lost.”
While the team would have had a shot to continue its season in the College Basketball Invitational, Donahue shot that idea down, saying, “we’ve always talked about [an Ivy Tournament Championship] being the goal and I believe we’re done.”
Next year, the Quakers should return four of today’s starters: Dingle, Slajchert, Spinoso, and Martz. But for the program’s seniors, including Monroe, this is likely their final time donning the Red and Blue.
“Lucas has had a tremendous impact on all of us, on the court, off the court, in the locker room,” Slajchert said. “I can’t speak highly enough of Lucas. Personally, I’ve looked up to him in my time here at Penn, [and I’m] super thankful for him.”
For Monroe, his time as a Quaker has been “everything,” and something that he’s found incredibly rewarding.
“The guys love each other and they love the program,” he said. “No one complains about playing time, we just want to win, that’s our goal … I’m gonna miss playing with them and I appreciate the coaches, managers, trainers, strength coaches, everyone that has helped me over the last four years.”