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Senior guard Clark Slajchert looks over his shoulder during a game against Harvard on Feb. 24.

Credit: Nathaniel Sirlin

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A game, a season, a chance at a title. All out the door in the blink of an eye.

On Saturday, Penn men’s basketball fell to Harvard 74-70 in a loss that officially eliminates the Quakers (10-16, 2-9 Ivy) from contention for the Ivy Madness tournament. It was a game like so many others for this season’s Red and Blue, as the team was once again doomed by a familiar demon: inconsistency. Despite playing the Crimson (14-10, 5-6) close for nearly the entire game, a huge Harvard run to end the first half proved fatal, bringing Penn’s postseason hopes to an end with a single subpar stretch.

“I thought we ran good offense and got great looks, and then we just missed a ton of easy shots,” coach Steve Donahue said of the Quakers’ struggles late in the first half. “That stretch right there … we just didn’t stay poised enough, and it hurt us.”

Credit: Nathaniel Sirlin

Freshman guard Tyler Perkins attempts a shot against Harvard on Feb. 24.

The Quakers entered Saturday’s matchup riding high after a road victory over Dartmouth, the team’s first win in over a month. But the eight-game losing streak that preceded that victory had already put Penn on the brink of postseason elimination, with the Quakers needing to win out in order to remain in contention.

In the early going, it was a familiar face in a new role leading the way for the Quakers. In just his second game coming off the bench in a Quakers uniform, freshman guard Tyler Perkins scored a quick nine points on 4-for-4 shooting to jumpstart Penn’s offensive engine. It was the Red and Blue’s second impact performance from a freshman in as many days after freshman guard Sam Brown’s 26 points led the way in Penn’s win over Dartmouth on Friday. On the season, Perkins and Brown have combined for 610 points, the most by a freshman duo in program history.

Credit: Nathaniel Sirlin

Freshman guard Sam Brown dribbles away from a Harvard defender on Feb. 24.

But as the first half wore on, the Crimson began to separate thanks to a frigid stretch from Penn’s offense. The Quakers managed just six points in the final seven minutes of the half, allowing a slight Harvard advantage to balloon to 13 by halftime. The stretch typified the inconsistency that Donahue has criticized all season long, as a short stretch of poor play again doomed an otherwise excellent performance from the Quakers.

“We've got to play 40 minutes,” Donahue said. “It’s not the effort — the kids play hard. There’s some moments — lack of execution, and maybe poise at times — that probably has gotten us through this stretch.”

Despite their closing struggles, the Red and Blue were able to claw their way back in the second half thanks to an efficient, ball-sharing offense. From the start of the second half to the five-minute mark, four Quakers scored at least six points, a testament to the offensive potential the Quakers have flashed so frequently in this lost season.

“I think we’ve made strides,” Donahue said of Penn’s flashes of offensive excellence. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

But in the end, the Crimson kept control. Although Penn tied the game twice in the final six minutes, it never led, in part thanks to an overwhelming discrepancy in free throw shooting. Nine of Harvard’s final 14 points came from the line, and Harvard attempted a total of 32 free throws, while Penn attempted just nine.

Credit: Nathaniel Sirlin

Junior forward/center Nick Spinoso attempts a layup against Harvard on Feb. 24.

On the day, Penn recorded more baskets, more three-pointers, and had a better field-goal percentage than the Crimson. And outside of the final seven minutes of the first half, the Red and Blue outscored Harvard 64-59. As the team looks ahead to its final three games, with no title to win and no postseason to prepare for, it is those positives that the team will attempt to build on.

“My view is: we’re building a champion,” Donahue said. “[It] may not be this year, but that’s why everyday, we practice hard. … We have three really good games at home, and we got a lot of work to do to show people we’re a good basketball team. … We want to play and show people Penn basketball’s in a good place.”