And so it begins.
Penn-Princeton is back, and one of college basketball’s greatest rivalries will commence at Jadwin Gym Saturday at 6 p.m.
Just in the nick of time for the struggling Quakers, their rivalry game of rivalry games is finally here.
Or is it?
“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that a win versus Princeton wasn’t one of our main goals at the start of the season,” junior guard Miles Cartwright said. “But we’re treating it like another game. This is our first game of league play, so I’m taking some motivation from that.”
Wait, didn’t I mention Penn-Princeton?
“It’s the next game on our schedule, so it’s our most important one now,” freshman guard Tony Hicks said. “That’s all we’re focused on — Ivy League play.”
Okay, but, come on, IT’S PRINCETON.
“The history between the two teams is documented,” coach Jerome Allen shrugged. “We try to take the approach of one, it’s the first game of league play, so it’s extremely important. And two, it’s our next game, so that’s why it’s important as well.
“So hopefully the guys keep the same attitude and mindset and just go out and play with a sense of urgency, just in terms of it being the next opportunity to compete.”
And there we have it — attitude. It’s all in the attitude for the seniorless Red and Blue, who own the worst win-loss record, scoring defense and rebounding defense in the Ivy League.
Fortunately, Penn (2-12) has plenty of reasons to have a positive attitude going into its game against Princeton (6-7). So why focus on the Tigers when the young Quakers’ own collective confidence is trending up?
The Quakers are coming off of arguably their best offensive performance of the season against Lafayette on Tuesday, when they set team season highs in points (83), shooting percentage (59.6) and assists (22).
And Penn did it all without its leading scorer, Fran Dougherty.
“[Without Fran], our guards are starting to be more assertive, trying to punch gaps instead of just looking in the post sometimes, and getting on our heels,” Hicks said. “So [Fran being out] has helped us overall with penetrating gaps and kicking.”
Penn’s youth is on the rise, with Hicks scoring in double-figures for the third straight game and freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry more than doubling his career-high point total against Lafayette.
Allen even stuck with a lineup — Hicks, Nelson-Henry, Cam Crocker, Steve Rennard and Dau Jok — that fulfilled the team’s wish to be more of an ensemble this season than it was last year under Zack Rosen’s leadership.
“With us being a fairly young team, you have to learn how to win,” Allen said. “It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process. But to these guys’ credit, they’ve bought in.”
But can they stop Ian Hummer? The senior forward is tied for first in the Ancient Eight in scoring at 16.2 points per game and ranks fourth in rebounding at 6.6 rebounds per contest. Hummer posted a double-double against the Quakers last time around, notching 18 points and 10 boards as Princeton dashed Penn’s Ivy title hopes.
“He’s been scoring the ball, rebounding, passing the ball, he’s continuing to work,” Allen said. “So I think for us it’s always going to come down to our principles.”
“We’ve been working on backdoor cuts, all that type of stuff. We’re just being really locked in during practice because they have a complex offense.”
That offense, boasting the second-best field goal percentage in the Ivy League, has allowed the Tigers to win three of their last four games heading into Saturday.
But none of those games was Penn-Princeton.
“Every game is a rivalry game — it’s all important,” Hicks said. “I just try to go into it like any other game.”
So mark down this edition of Penn-Princeton as a chance for the Quakers to grow. It’s all about seeing whether the fresh-faced Quakers have been continuing to eat their Wheaties. And if some Frosted Flakes get trashed along the way, that’s fine too.
Guess it’s still Penn-Princeton after all.