While most of campus and the country was spending time with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, Penn men’s basketball (5-3) stayed in Philadelphia over the break, as the Quakers hosted the annual Cathedral of College Basketball Classic at the Palestra. One of several traditional ‘Feast Week’ tournaments, Penn played host to Lafayette, Belmont, and Monmouth over the weekend.
Overall, the weekend was an up-and-down affair for the Quakers, as the Red and Blue split their first two games with a narrow victory against Lafayette followed by a close loss to Belmont. But on Sunday, the team bounced back and withstood a comeback attempt to defeat Monmouth.
Even though the team will not begin conference play until January, coach Steve Donahue told The Daily Pennsylvanian that playing tournaments like the Cathedral Classic gives the team exposure to the rigors of the Ivy League season.
“We play three games in three days, and you really learn a lot about yourself,” Donahue said. “It’s like three final exams … you really get to know about your guys [and] all of the mistakes and how to correct them.”
The weekend began with a back-and-forth game against Lafayette (1-6), which the Quakers ultimately won 74-72, following a contest that featured five ties and six lead changes. To defeat the Leopards, Penn relied on strong three-point shooting — they finished the game 10-23 from long range — as well as strong performances from several regular contributors. Senior guard Clark Slajchert led the team with 18 points, and junior center Nick Spinoso had 10 rebounds and three blocks to complement his nine points.
But the standout performance of Friday’s game came from freshman guard Sam Brown, who scored 12 points on 4-6 shooting from the floor during his 26 minutes off the bench. This excellent performance was rewarded by Donahue and his staff with a spot in the starting lineup against both Belmont and Monmouth.
“He’s just an all around basketball player,” Donahue said about Brown. “People know about his shooting, but that’s just a piece of it. His ability to guard multiple guys on the perimeter, his ball handling, his decision making, his toughness … so the moment is not too big for him.”
Against Belmont (4-3), though, Brown was cold, only scoring three points on 1-5 shooting in the Quakers’ 84-79 loss. However, this was made up for by a trio of strong performances from Slajchert, Spinoso, and freshman guard Tyler Perkins, who each scored 20 points.
Much of this effort came in the second half, as the Quakers came back from a Belmont lead that reached 12 at its highest — and had the Bruins up four with under a minute to play — to ultimately force overtime. In the extra period, though, the team struggled, and Penn fell by five.
Slajchert said the team was “hungry to respond from the loss yesterday and excited about the fact that [it] got to play so soon.”
“We know we can play so much better than we have this weekend,” Slajchert said.
All of this set up Sunday afternoon’s match against Monmouth (4-3) to determine whether the Quakers would end the tournament with a winning record. And early on, Penn struggled, allowing the Hawks to open up a lead as high as seven. But as the first half wore on, Penn went on an extended scoring run to build a 39-27 lead heading into halftime.
Given that this was the team’s third match in as many days, Donahue delved into his bench for significant minutes on Sunday. This included freshman center Augustus Gerhart, who finished with 10 points on 5-7 shooting in a season-high 17 minutes.
“[Gerhart] is just locked in,” Donahue said. “He’s going to be really good and I’m so happy he got the experience. I’m not surprised, as he shows it every day and I think [he’s] … a really good piece of our future.”
Early in the second half, Penn extended its lead to 20 on a three-pointer by junior guard George Smith. But Monmouth was determined to stay in the contest, and reduced the Quaker lead to 12 with 10 minutes to play. From there, the Hawks continued, with the lead getting to seven at multiple points. In the end, though, there was not enough time for a comeback, and the Quakers held on to win 76-61.
Up next will see Penn in another tournament, as it heads to South Philadelphia next Saturday for the inaugural Big 5 Classic at Wells Fargo Center. After the Quakers went 1-1 in pod play, their seeding and opponent is largely dependent on the outcome of the St. Joe’s-Villanova game on Tuesday.