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Princeton knocks out Penn in Ivy League semifinals

03/11/2023, 8:00pm EST
By Jared Leveson

Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)

PRINCETON, N.J. — Penn wanted a physical game with archrival Princeton in their Ivy League semifinal contest Saturday afternoon. 

The Quakers and Tigers met just seven days prior at Jadwin Gymnasium where Princeton erased a 17-point halftime deficit, forced overtime, and outscored Penn 11-3 in the extra session for an eight-point win..

Penn Head coach Steve Donahue told his squad to treat their third matchup this season against the Tigers like a boxing match. 

“The previous two games,” he said. “We (led) about 73% of the time, we led or tied 68% of the time [today]. We talked about finishing it. A 10-round fight, there's four minute segments. There's 10 of them.

“We didn't finish the last one and they did.”

Jordan Dinge, above, had 19 points in Penn's semifinal loss to Princeton on Saturday. (Photo: CoBL File)

No. 3 seed Penn battled hard all night, tying the game nine times and giving the crowd of 4,509 another classic game. Despite juniors Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert’s vintage performances, No. 2 Princeton won the rebounding battle and made enough plays down the stretch, beating the Quakers’ 77-70, and ending their season. 

“It was a physical game,” the 6-foot-1 Slajchert said. “I think we expected it to be and those are the kind of games that we like. Whether it's just like boxing dudes out, getting physical on ball screens. But we just compete for 40 minutes. That's our goal and I thought that we competed for a little less than 40 minutes tonight.” 

“Princeton made a lot of tough shots,” Dingle added. “There was a couple of things that we allowed to happen, offensive rebounds that we shouldn't have. Maybe if we come up with those, the outcome’s a little bit different. It's a really long game and a lot of things go into that.” 

Both teams emptied their tanks and laid their bodies on the line. Each time the Tigers delivered a blow, Penn responded. The back-and-forth physicality of the game didn’t cease between the first and last buzzer.  

Princeton led 71-70 and got a critical stop after Princeton’s Keeshawn Kellman, a Perkiomen School product, drew a charge on Penn sophomore Nick Spinoso (15 points, eight rebounds, two assists) with 1:22 left.

“Keeshawn took his first charge of his career,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson added. “Heck of a time to get one.”

While the result did not work in favor of the Quakers, Donahue was happy with the decision.

“We can't really control that [call],” Donahue said. “I thought we went to the right place and thought Nick made the right play. They were spaced out. He had a one-on-one against a kid who has a hard time guarding.”

With under a minute, Princeton’s Caden Pierce (14 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists) missed a three. The ball bounced off the rim and through a sea of Penn and Princeton hands under the basket. The officials ruled possession for the Tigers, then went to the monitors and confirmed their call. 

Princeton missed another three, but the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Pierce, pulled down the offensive board with 39 seconds left. First-team All-Ivy honoree, Tosan Evbuomwan (21 points) finished a turnaround hook shot and extended the Tigers’ lead to 73-70.  

Dingle’s three-pointer with 14 seconds left hit iron. Pierce secured another rebound and sank both free throws, securing the Tigers’ ninth straight win over Penn.  

“It's unfortunate,” senior Lucas Monroe said. “Obviously someone has to win, someone has to lose. You can do like everything possible and be prepared. Sometimes shots just don't fall. Sometimes the ball just doesn't go in. And it's kind of a gamble you play when you're trying to achieve something.” 

Controlling the glass was critical for both teams as Princeton came into the postseason ranked first in the Ivy and tenth in the nation, pulling down 39.30 rpg. Penn and Princeton competed on the glass all afternoon, but Princeton won the battle on the boards, 42-34. 

The Tigers also beat out Penn on the offensive glass 15-10, and second chance points 12-9. 

“I felt we executed our plan really well,” Donahue said. “Guarded terrific, took advantage of what they gave us and I thought they played well too. [But] your best at that most critical time has to be there.” 

Princeton won the first matchup of the season series 72-60 on Jan. 12 before a 77-69 overtime win in the March 4 regular-season finale.

It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season and Penn’s two leading scorers, Dingle and Slajchert, pushed Princeton to their limits, doing all they could to push the Quakers into their first Ivy League final since 2018. 

Dingle, who entered the Ivy League tournament as the nation’s second leading scorer (23.6 ppg) had himself another excellent game. The Ivy League Player of the Year, scored 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field, along with three rebounds, six assists, and two steals.

“I thought Jordan was so good today and worthy of the [Ivy League] player of the year,” Donahue said. “And a lot of ways, maybe his best game of the year. They were so aggressive with him, and to thread the needle for six assists, not one turnover in there, [with] that much attention to him just shows you another part of his game that I don't think people realize.”

Slajchert followed Dingle’s lead and stepped up in the second half, where he scored 11 of his 17 points. The Los Angeles, Calif. native went 6-of-13 from the field and 4-of-7 from three and added two steals. 

“I thought Slajchert was amazing tonight as well,” Henderson said. “Most of you can feel his presence on the court. I'm sure you can see it too. He's getting everything out of himself.” 

Dingle, Slajchert and the rest of the Quakers played hard for each other, but mostly for Monroe, the lone senior in Penn’s starting five. Monroe set the tone for the Quakers and took a charge off the opening tip and then banked in a three for the game’s first points. 

The Abington High product’s early play ignited his team and Penn went into the halftime break with momentum, leading 31-30. 

“His leadership this year was something that we really needed at times,” Dingle said, “If you just look at the way we started off the game, you know what I mean? Him crashing Tosan [Evbuomwan] first and causing a turnover. Like you couldn't ask for anything more. 

“He left his heart out there and we all just followed his lead.” 

The Quakers never quit, but Princeton responded to every punch thrown. The Tigers turned the ball over eight times in the first half, but only committed one in the second half, and outscored Penn 47-39 in the final 20 minutes.

Penn was obviously disappointed with how its season ended, but there is plenty of optimism surrounding the program heading into next season.

Donahue’s core group should stay intact. Other than Monroe, Penn is returning four starters and its five leading scorers. 

“This group has been so much together,” Donahue said. “I'm excited as heck for where we're going. With all this experience, I think we're gonna have a great spring and summer.

“[I’m] fired up to come back and have a great year.” 

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