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Senior guard Clark Slajchert prepares to inbound the ball against Princeton on Mar. 9.

Credit: Jada Eible Hargro

In a packed Palestra, Penn men’s basketball went out to celebrate senior night this past Saturday. Sadly, the cheers stopped soon after the senior introductions as Princeton whalloped Penn in a 105-83 defeat.

With the two teams on opposite trajectories, Penn (11-18, 3-11 Ivy) near the bottom of the Ivy League and Princeton (24-3, 12-2 Ivy) looking for a March Madness bid, the Tigers were quickly able to jump out to a 15-4 lead. The Quakers fielded a starting lineup that held all three of their honoree seniors of the night: guard Clark Slajchert, forward Andrew Laczkowski, and guard Colin Chambers. Despite the desperate situation the team found itself in early on, the team showed up and showed out for its seniors against a flaming-hot Tigers squad.

Princeton’s lights-out shooting from behind the ark led the way early on as the team jumped out to a 15-4 lead. Twelve made threes on 64 percent shooting for the Tigers, creating a 15-point lead at halftime. The Red and Blue tried to keep up with physical play inside from junior forward Nick Spinoso, who finished the half with a game-leading 14 points.

“We obviously didn’t get off to a good start,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Talking about threes, our achilles heel has been our defense.”

The game wouldn’t get any closer as Princeton was able to uphold its 15-point lead for most of the second half. As a visibly frustrated Donahue paced the sidelines, the clock slowly ticked down with little movement on the scoreboard. Sophomore guard Xaivian Lee and sophomore forward Caden Pierce tore the Quaker defense up for Princeton. Pierce was nearing thirty points with less than ten minutes on the clock, while junior forward/guard Ed Holland III’s substitution in the second half was the only thing keeping the Red and Blue afloat as he scored nine points in the four minutes he played.

Pierce would go on to post a career high as Princeton’s continued hot streak from three lended to one of the Tiger’s best offensive outputs of the year. As the ball stopped bouncing for the final time, the reality of the season set in. As all the seniors received their final rounds of applause, and Princeton celebrated its top-of-the-league finish, Penn men’s basketball officially wrapped up its 2023-2024 season. Finishing 3-11 in conference play, the Quakers ended the season second to last in the conference, only ahead of a currently unionizing Dartmouth team. The season was rocky at best, featuring surprise departures and injuries that helped derail the team.

“Your leader goes down at the beginning of the Ivy League season [referring to Slajchert], and then going five and six on the road, it was the most difficult stretch I’ve had as a coach in terms of keeping a group together,” Donahue said when reflecting on the season.

Postgame, all attention was on the seniors as coach Donahue spoke on their impacts on Penn over their careers.

“Three seniors I am incredibly grateful for, and all they did for Penn,” Donahue said. “It was a weird class because of COVID-19 and everything being different, they got shortchanged and only got three years. This year didn’t turn out like they hoped, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

Specifically commenting on Slajchert, Donahue had high praise for a player who never had it easy at Penn. A leader through it all, Slajchert achieved greatness despite the obstacles he faced throughout his career.

“Stinks he only played 71 games,” Donahue said. “Kids are playing 140 games, and you pack everything you can into 71 games. Obviously it was very painful for us and him … One of the best competitors and scorers I have ever coached. Incredibly selfless, and cared about winning over everything.”

Despite the loss and the overwhelmingly disappointing end to the season, the Quakers do have plenty of bright spots to look forward to next season. For the first time in program history, Penn boasts two freshmen who scored over 250 points in a season with guards Sam Brown and Tyler Perkins. Perkins, specifically, broke the program record for points in a freshman season with a total of 398, passing program great and former Ivy League Player of the Year AJ Brodeur’s 381. This dynamic freshman class, in combination with retaining a host of juniors and seniors, gives hope for future success as the Quakers lose a program great in Slajchert.

“This spring we really gotta figure out our defense, and grow as a team,” Donahue concluded with. “We have a foreign trip coming up in May, which will help us get better.”

With the season coming to a close, all eyes shift to the women’s basketball team as it is set to compete in the Ivy Madness tournament. You can watch its next game on ESPN+ this upcoming Saturday versus, once again, Princeton.