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Nick Spinoso posts up against Cornell at the Palestra on Feb. 4, 2023.

Credit: Michael Palacios

They say in sports, it‘s not about how you start, but how you finish. That was a lesson Penn men’s basketball learned the hard way on Monday.

In the team's second game of the Ivy League season, the Quakers were toppled by Cornell 77-60, sending them down the Ancient Eight standings. While Penn (9-8, 1-1 Ivy) led at halftime, a strong second half of shooting for Cornell (12-3, 2-0) paired with an unfortunate amount of turnovers for Penn enabled the loss for the Quakers.

Following Penn's victory over Dartmouth, which marked a promising start to the new year, the Quakers traveled to Ithaca, N.Y. for a pivotal Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee, aimed at disrupting the Ivy League standings. Prior to this clash, the Big Red had shown its potential to challenge Penn's run, especially after a commanding 91-79 victory against the Columbia Lions in its inaugural Ivy League match, featuring a standout 24-point performance by junior guard Nazir Williams. 

With both teams undefeated in Ivy League play, this encounter was crucial for establishing dominance in the standings. The Quakers previously stomped Dartmouth a week prior in a 80-51 win, which gave fans hope that Penn would maintain that momentum and secure a spot in the top portion of the Ivy League win column. 

Against Cornell though, a close-fought first half would be the last glimpse of that hope, with the Big Red taking advantage of a turnover-filled, inefficient second half from the Quakers. 

The first half ended with the Quakers taking a three-point lead of 31-28 after a series of sharp three point shooting and defensive pressure that effectively countered the impact of Cornell’s high-ball-movement offense. Junior guard Reese McMullen finished the half shooting three for three from the field — two of those shots coming from beyond the arc and leading all Penn scorers. Freshman guard Tyler Perkins continued his streak of impact, logging two steals in the half. 

But the Big Red began the second half ablaze with two quick back-to-back triples from senior guard Chris Manon and a mid-range jumper from Williams. Despite a series of rapid back-and-forth action, the game tipped in Cornell’s favor after a collection of efficient three-point shooting across the board from its starters. Ultimately, it was less about Cornell’s dominance and more about Penn’s shortcomings, as the Quakers finished the game with 16 turnovers, twice as many as the Big Red.

The road for this Quakers squad proves difficult if it cannot manage to hone its ability to close out games. The Quakers still sorely miss the contributions of senior guard Clark Slajchert, who has been out with an ankle injury since Dec. 30. Slajchert is not only the team's leading scorer and primary offensive orchestrator, but is a vocal presence and critical leader in all aspects of the game.

With its next game against Harvard at the Palestra on Saturday, Jan. 20, this Quaker team will need to hope that the home-court advantage will bolster its path back into the win column. The Crimson stand at 0-2 in Ivy play after a close 74-72 loss against Brown. 

Who will end the season at the pinnacle of the Ancient Eight remains uncertain, but what can be said for sure is that this Penn squad has a chance. It simply needs to learn how to finish strong, both in games and for this season.