Just like that, it’s almost over.
A season that started with the junior class taking the reins, three new assistant coaches taking their place and a program taking inventory again after the loss of Zack Rosen has only one game left — the one that has always mattered most.
Princeton at the Palestra.
What does the rivalry mean to junior captain Miles Cartwright?
“It means everything to me, especially after last year,” Cartwright said, referring to Penn’s season-ending loss to Princeton that knocked the Quakers out of Ivy title contention. “I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from that. I felt like they took our championship away. So from that standpoint, the rivalry’s very big for me.”
To get revenge, Penn (9-21, 6-7 Ivy) will have to flip the script of its last dance with Princeton (16-11, 9-4), a 65-53 defeat for the Quakers at Jadwin Gym on Jan. 12 that was more decisive than its final score suggests.
In fact, in that game, the Quakers were stronger on paper than they were in reality. Penn led Princeton in bench points (32-8), second-chance points (12-2) and rebounds (33-32).
But the Tigers shot 11-for-22 from beyond the arc, with junior guard T.J. Bray hitting six threes himself en route to 23 points.
“We didn’t think T.J. Bray was someone who was going to kill us with that many threes,” freshman guard Tony Hicks said. “We should just trust our scouting and we should be okay.”
The Tigers weren’t okay at either Yale or Brown this weekend, falling out of contention for an Ivy League championship as a result.
“It’s hugely disappointing for us,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We have a very simple goal around here, and that’s to play championship basketball.”
Princeton’s fall from title contention means that the second edition of Penn-Princeton won’t have any conference championship implications for the first time in three seasons.
But the revenge factor is still there for Cartwright, especially since he scored just two points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field at Princeton in January.
“He’s a good player, and I think I said after the game that it’s going to be a very different game when we see them the next time around,” Henderson said. “And I believe that’s true.”
“First and foremost, we have a home game so I take it upon myself to make sure we come out with a higher sense of urgency,” Cartwright said. “I’m not going to change the way I’ve been playing.”
Neither is Hicks, who notched a then-career high 16 points on 8-for-16 shooting at Princeton.
“From going there and playing the game, not to call the Tigers overrated or anything, but I feel like they got a lot more credit than was due,” Hicks said. “And I just feel like we should prove that every time we play them.”
Now, what the Quakers value above all else is picking up the momentum going into next season that the Tigers took away from them a year ago.
“It’s huge. It’s everything. We want to go into the spring and summer with some momentum, even though we’re not playing for the championship,” Cartwright said.
“I think it’s really important [to end on a high note],” Hicks said. “I think it could definitely send a message, us beating Harvard at home and for us to do that against Princeton, that would send a message.”
So although 2012-13 is almost over, the Quakers can still suggest one final time with a win over Princeton that the ups and downs of this season have left them on the up and up going into next year.
Just like that.