As Miles Cartwright goes, so goes the Penn men’s basketball team.
In the Quakers’ five victories this season, the junior guard has posted an average of 19.6 points per game, while logging just 12.3 points per contest in Penn’s 17 losses.
When the Red and Blue (5-17, 2-3 Ivy) confront Harvard (13-7, 5-1) Friday in Cambridge, Mass., the Quakers will look for Cartwright to score early and often.
The Los Angeles native certainly found a groove against Brown in Penn’s last game, exploding for a career-high 28 points and shooting 5-for-6 from three-point range.
His offensive feats against the Bears were in stark contrast to a lackluster performance the night before versus Yale, in which Cartwright went 1-for-7 from the field and finished with just six points.
The difference between the two games for the junior co-captain comes down to starting out — and staying — in attack mode.
“I can either start off aggressive early in the game and lose intensity throughout or I can not be assertive at the start and then get better as the game goes on,” Cartwright said. “So I just got to be aggressive and stay aggressive throughout the game.”
Against Harvard, the Quakers will need all of the firepower Cartwright can give them.
Six games into their conference schedule, the Crimson are the front-runners to capture the Ivy League title. In fact, Harvard has represented the cream of the Ancient Eight crop for some time now, owning the best record in conference play over the past four years at 39-9.
This year’s edition of the Crimson features a balanced — and efficient — offensive attack. All five of Harvard’s starters average more than eight points per game, and the team ranks 11th in the nation in terms of field goal percentage. Forward Jonah Travis leads the Ivy League in that category at 61.3 percent.
The Crimson are led by a pair of young guns in freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore forward Wesley Saunders, who have made Harvard the favorite for a conference title despite the absence of co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry due to the widely-publicized cheating scandal.
But Penn has some young rising stars of its own. Despite sitting out the Quakers’ win against Brown with a low-grade MCL sprain, freshman center Darien Nelson-Henry is expected to return to action against the Crimson. Rookie guard Tony Hicks posted 15 points in last week’s victory and continues to dazzle with an ability to score rarely found in the Ivy League.
But while offensive effort attracts the spotlight, Cartwright knows the squad can’t depend on an exceptional shooting performance every night and that defense will be a key when shots don’t go down.
“If shots aren’t falling and we aren’t defending, then we aren’t going to have a chance to win,” Cartwright said. “We just try to focus on having a consistent defensive effort.”
In addition to holding Brown to just 48 points in their victory, the Quakers demonstrated a newfound knack for rebounding, despite Nelson-Henry’s absence from the lineup. Cartwright grabbed seven rebounds, while Hicks and Dau Jok pulled down five and six boards, respectively.
“Without Darien and Fran, who are our two best rebounders on the team and two biggest guys, we know we have to help Henry [Brooks], Greg [Louis], Cam [Crocker] and Dau [Jok] in there because they already have a load to deal with in boxing out bigger guys,” Cartwright said. “So if we can fly in and help them get those rebounds, it will help us in our break and get us into our early offensive flow.”
Though previously unbeaten in conference play, Harvard and Princeton both fell last weekend to Columbia and Yale, respectively — both teams that Penn has played down to the wire or defeated this season. So the door has been left open for the Quakers to make some noise in the Ancient Eight.
“The league always presents some craziness every year. It’s starting off a little earlier than usual,” Cartwright said. “We just have to stay on an even keel and just focus on us.”