One year after Zack Rosen and company rallied Penn men’s basketball during the second half of the Ivy season, the now Rosen-less Quakers are at a crossroads.
Freshman guard Tony Hicks’ breakout performance at Cornell and Columbia last weekend — which led to him being named Ivy League Rookie of the Week on Monday — couldn’t prevent another Penn (7-19, 4-5 Ivy) split.
Junior captain Miles Cartwright followed a well-rounded game at Cornell with a blooper at Columbia, going only 1-for-10 from the field.
And the Quakers enter this weekend’s home games against Dartmouth (6-18, 2-8) and Harvard (17-7, 9-1) with the only reasonable goal in mind of playing for pride — and for next season.
“We still want to get better, build some momentum going into the spring and the summer,” Cartwright said. “We still want to win — we’re still playing for something.”
Additionally, the team’s goal will be to finally find the consistency it has been lacking all season.
“It’s time we start putting things together and not taking plays off,” coach Jerome Allen said.
The Red and Blue had troubles scoring against Columbia, hitting only 29.2 percent from the field — and only one successful three-pointer in 11 attempts.
Similarly, in their 73-54 loss to the Crimson earlier this year, the Quakers only went 22-for-63. But in its 67-57 victory over the Big Green the following day, Penn shot 76.2 percent from the field during its second-half comeback.
“In nights where we aren’t putting the ball in the hole from the perimeter we got to figure out a way to get in the middle of the paint, go into the post and get more easier buckets,” Cartwright said.
That won’t be easy against a Harvard team that is first in the Ancient Eight with 4.5 shots blocked per Ivy contest.
But despite being the top-ranked team in the Ivy standings, the Crimson have been fragile on defense at times this year.
The key to exploit Harvard’s weaknesses will be the inside play of freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry, who racked up nine rebounds in both games last weekend — but was also limited to six points apiece.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, the Quakers will have to defend the most potent offense in the Ancient Eight.
Harvard’s Wesley Saunders leads the conference with 17.9 points per Ivy game, and is third in conference play with a .624 field goal percentage. The sophomore guard, who scored 23 points against Penn earlier this year, will have all eyes on him Saturday at the Palestra.
But even if Saunders struggles, the Crimson can also count on the league’s leaders in both shooting percentage from the field and assists per Ivy game — namely, Steve Moundou-Missi and Siyani Chambers, respectively.
And while Penn figures to be the favorite in its Friday game against Dartmouth, the Quakers will first have to get past 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Gabas Maldunas.
The Lithuania native leads the Ancient Eight with 6.9 rebounds per conference contest, and shined in the Big Green’s losing effort against the Red and Blue earlier this year with 19 points, 10 boards and three blocks.
In the end, though, Hicks thinks it will be all about showing up to play for the Quakers.
“We just [have] to compete more,” he said. “A lot of times we just kind of get down on ourselves as a team, we just don’t have the fire to compete.