Playing on the road against an SEC opponent for the third consecutive season, Penn went toe-to-toe with Missouri on Friday night at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, but ultimately fell short, 92-85.
The game’s defining sequence came with 5:49 to go in the second half and the Tigers up one, 70-69. Missouri’s best forward, Kobe Brown, got the ball at the left of the free throw circle and unsuccessfully attempted to back down Penn center Max Lorca-Lloyd.
As three Quakers surrounded Brown, the Tigers senior stumbled backwards in the lane. Instead of calling Brown for a travel, the officials signaled for a held ball with the possession arrow favoring Missouri.
The Tigers took advantage of the break, as Nick Honor hit a killer pull-up three-pointer over George Smith in the dying seconds of the shot clock to extend the Missouri lead to four. Penn would get no closer than four points down for the rest of the night.
What did we learn about the Quakers in a solid showing against an opponent ranked 50th in KenPom heading into the game?
1. There’s no need to worry about Clark Slajchert.
Coming off one of the worst games of his collegiate career against Iona, Slajchert turned in one of his best showings yet on Friday. The 6-foot-1 guard played fearlessly and attacked the lane every chance he got.
His efforts paid off in both field goals — Slajchert finished 6-for-9 from two-point range — and free throws. Slajchert was the only Penn player to attempt more than two free throws on the night. Two of those attempts came with three seconds left in the first half and leveled the score at 43 heading into the intermission. Slajchert finished the night with a team-high 21 points.
Slajchert’s aggression also paid dividends on defense. The junior grabbed four defensive rebounds, tying him for the team lead on the evening with Lorca-Lloyd and forward Michael Moshkovitz.
As the Quakers settle into the season and coach Steve Donahue sets his rotations, don’t be surprised if Slajchert winds up as the primary ball-handler in many offensive sets.
2. The Quakers might have something really good in Eddie Holland III.
Holland, a sophomore who spurned offers from well-established programs like VCU, Penn State and Providence, seems to provide a spark every time he comes off the bench.
In a 30-second span in the first half, Holland drilled a wide-open three from the right corner, then smartly trailed Jordan Dingle on a runout after the Quakers turned Missouri over on the next possession. When Dingle missed a layup, Holland was there to grab the offensive rebound and clean things up, gathering an and-one in the process.
Holland’s personal 6-0 run helped Penn climb all the way out of the 12-0 hole it had gotten itself into after two minutes of action and take a 21-20 lead.
Advanced metrics are showering Holland with plenty of love thus far. Per KenPom, the Quakers are scoring 150 points per 100 possessions when Holland has been on the floor. If Holland had logged enough minutes to qualify, that would make him one of the 150 most efficient players in the country.
Holland, a local product out of Friends’ Central School, needs more run.
3. Pressure defense is a major problem for Penn’s offense.
The biggest factor in Penn’s loss Friday night may have been that the Quakers finished -10 in turnover margin. Penn committed 19 giveaways to Missouri’s nine.
Penn struggled mightily with Missouri’s full-court pressure at times, echoing similar struggles against Iona on Monday night. The issues were best typified by a sequence at the end of the first half, when Penn held a seven-point lead and seemed like it was about to take control of the game.
With 2:23 to go in the half and a 39-32 advantage, the Quakers seemed primed to potentially go up double digits after the Tigers traveled. Coming out of the inbounds, Slajchert was squeezed to the sideline as he crossed midcourt and dribbled right into D’Moi Hodge, who stole the ball. Hodge got an and-one out of the ensuing runout, a five- or six-point swing.
Penn got pretty much any open look it wanted in its halfcourt offense. It just didn’t get into the halfcourt enough.