The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


George Smith puts up a layup against Kentucky's Aaron Bradshaw at the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 9, 2023.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

In the final Penn men's basketball game before conference play starts up, the team was bested by No. 25 Auburn on the road, falling 88-68 in an intense matchup. 

After a first half that saw the Quakers fall into a double-digit hole, the final three seconds of clock seemed to take as long as the first 1,197. The sequence started with a transition opportunity for Penn freshman guard Sam Brown, who was fouled hard by Auburn junior Chad Baker-Mazara. After missing the first shot from the charity stripe, Brown was bumped by Baker-Mazara, leading to a retaliatory shove and a technical foul. 

After two free throws for Auburn, a discussion and technical error by the officials, and Brown’s second free throw, there remained three ticks on the clock for Auburn to score. None other than Baker-Mazara ended up with possession and was gifted another two opportunities for free points before the break after Penn junior guard George Smith bumped him into the scorers table. The huge point swing typified a tough first half for Penn, but the Red and Blue did not let it define the contest as a whole.

“[W]e did a good job to get back in the game,” coach Steve Donahue said. “There [was] a chance [with] this young group, with three freshmen [doing] the majority of the scoring tonight, that we’d lay down, [and] not [be] ready to go [coming out of the break], and [we did] just the opposite.”

Donahue motivated his Quakers (8-7) to a much cleaner performance coming out of the locker room against No. 25 Auburn (11-2), with Brown leading the charge after his potentially game-changing gaffe. The two-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week took on a larger than normal role with Penn’s leading scorer, senior guard Clark Slajchert, unavailable due to injury. Brown, along with freshman guard Tyler Perkins, had big shoes to fill on the offensive end against the Tigers.

“I think you’ll see more of [Brown] attacking the rim. He’s a very good shooter, but he’s a good athlete,” Donahue said. “Tyler, I thought, competed at a high level … he had had a really good stretch that got us back into the game and then [freshman guard Niklas] Polonowski just really proved that he’s not too nervous for the stage."

While the burst from Brown and Perkins out of the break gave the Quakers a brief glimmer of hope, Auburn was ultimately able to protect their halftime advantage and secure the victory.

Slajchert’s presence was sorely missed, especially from behind the arc. Without his 43 percent shooting from three, the Quakers struggled to keep up with Auburn’s long range attack. While the Tigers shot a blustering 10-19 on threes in the first half, Penn finished with a total of 10-28, with Brown’s four threes and 20 points leading the team.

“I think we were all just shell-shocked [against Houston]. I see basically the number one team in the country and you lose your best player, the most experienced,” Donahue said. “We had a couple of days to kind of settle in and figure out how we’ve got to play and who we’ve got to play … the kids all stepped up and did a good job.”

Donahue could not give a timeline for Slajchert’s injury, saying the team will have to “see how the healing process goes,” but confirmed that Penn will open conference play without its leading scorer.

For the Tigers, junior forward Johni Broome led a dominant performance, finishing with 22 points on a near perfect night from the field, adding 12 rebounds to boot. Broome’s double-double may be a sign of things to come, as Donahue’s Quakers must prepare for several elite bigs in the Ivy League — Princeton sophomore Caden Pierce, Yale sophomore Danny Wolf, and Harvard sophomore Chisom Okpara, to name a few.

“This is nothing against those guys, but there’s no one like Broome … he’s an NBA player,” Donahue said. “He’s as good of a big as we played all year … I thought Nick did a good job. [Pierce, Wolf and Okpara] are different, but still we have to figure out ways to score on big guys."

The Quakers will look to build after losses to two of the nation’s top teams as they move into a different echelon of basketball in Ivy Play. 

“I just think you don’t get where you want to get by taking the easy route,” Donahue said. “I knew this trip was going to be a bear, and throw on top of it losing the best guard in the league and our leader and we come out and play a real hard spirit of the game against a top 10 team … you’ve got to grow from this.”

Penn opens their conference schedule at Dartmouth on Jan. 6, with hopes to start another strong run to, and through, Ivy Madness.