This weekend is the beginning of the final chance for Miles Jackson-Cartwright. And Fran Dougherty. Not to mention Dau Jok, Steve Rennard and Cameron Gunter.
For Penn basketball’s senior class, the upcoming trip to Dartmouth on Friday and Harvard on Saturday will be the start of each player’s final time through the 14-game tournament that is Ivy play.
And after beating Princeton three weeks ago, the Quakers (4-11, 1-0 Ivy) go into road territory looking to set themselves up as legitimate Ancient Eight contenders.
“This is a great opportunity for us, especially to right the wrongs of the early part of the season,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We feel like we are way better than our record entails.”
As this season has progressed, Jackson-Cartwright has taken on a larger role as a leader in his second year as a captain. And in Penn’s only Ivy matchup, the senior guard displayed his value to his team, hitting the game-winning free throws while fighting through an injury.
“He is important for us in a number of different areas and not necessarily just scoring the ball: his leadership, his willingness to serve the rest of the group,” coach Jerome Allen said.
First up for the Red and Blue this weekend will be the Big Green (7-9, 0-2), who have struggled this year, even before losing their leading scorer and rebounder — junior Gabas Maldunas — for the rest of the season with an injury.
But the Quakers are still expecting a fight from Dartmouth on Friday.
“We can’t allow our guys to rest on the fact that their leading inside presence isn’t there,” Allen said. “We have to prepare them to beat Dartmouth and not Gabas Maldunas.”
With Maldunas out, Dartmouth will likely turn to its guards to pick up the slack, including sophomore Alex Mitola, a 5-foot-11 point guard who was instrumental in Dartmouth’s upset of Penn at the Palestra last season.
“He is kind of like the engine that makes that car go,” Allen said. “To Alex’s credit, he doesn’t let his size affect what he can and cannot do.”
After taking on Dartmouth, the Ivy favorite Crimson (14-3, 2-0) will be awaiting Penn’s arrival for a 9 p.m. matchup on NBC Sports Network.
Harvard comes into this weekend as the two-time defending outright Ivy champions having won its first two Ancient Eight games this year by beating up on an undermanned Dartmouth squad.
But don’t think for a second that these Quakers are intimidated by Harvard’s success, even after Penn’s nonconference struggles early in the year.
“Everyone picked Harvard to be first. We know that,” Dougherty said. “[But we’re] tied for first in the Ivy League and that’s how we look at it. The record will tell all at the end of the year.”
While the Crimson played three games in three days earlier this year at the Great Alaska Shootout, Penn doesn’t have the same experience with back-to-back games in the 2013-14 season.
And with an increasing reliance on his starting guards — as Jackson-Cartwright and sophomore Tony Hicks played a combined 76 minutes in Saturday’s win over NJIT — Allen will need to be resourceful to get two full games out of his squad this weekend.
But Jackson-Cartwright is confident his squad will be ready to go, including the underclassmen who haven’t experienced an Ivy weekend.
“They’re going to be ready,” he said. “Just because they haven’t been through it yet, they know how important this weekend is.”
But for the senior class, this weekend will mean one less Ivy weekend left.
“We talk about it all the time. For every day you step on the floor, your career is that much shorter,” Allen said. “The seniors have 13 Ivy games left in their career and it’s our job to control and extend that.”