Things couldn’t be any clearer for Penn basketball this weekend.
In its first conference game of 2013-14 on Jan. 11, Penn knocked off archrival Princeton. Finally, after an abysmal nonconference run that included zero wins over Big 5 opponents and a seven-game losing streak, the Quakers everyone had been waiting for were ready to make a leap forward.
Now, almost a month later, all good vibes stemming from that Princeton win are gone. Penn is a desperate, beaten team. It’s the 12th round, and one more punch is going to knock the Red and Blue out for good.
Maybe that’s exactly what the Quakers need.
Following back-to-back losses in its first Ivy doubleheader of the season, Penn (4-13, 1-2 Ivy) returns to the Palestra to host its New York rivals over the weekend.
On Friday, the Red and Blue will match up with a sputtering Cornell team before taking on Columbia the following evening.
After last weekend’s sloppy loss to Dartmouth and embarrassing blowout against Harvard, Penn has no more room for error. This weekend — and the rest of the season — the message is simple: win . . . or that’s it.
“Last weekend obviously wasn’t a great weekend for us, not even looking at it in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of how we competed,” coach Jerome Allen said. “I’m disappointed, but the challenge now is to get these guys motivated and ready to use last weekend as a learning tool.”
While Harvard is by far the best team in the Ivy League, many expected the Quakers to at least split last weekend’s games. But facing a Dartmouth squad missing its leading scorer and rebounder, Penn committed 18 turnovers and blew a seven-point halftime lead.
Now, the team’s desperation is palpable.
“It’s really been just two years of the same stuff,” senior captain Miles Jackson-Cartwright said. “We know what the problem is, we just are really having a tough time finding a solution to those problems.
“This is definitely a time where we need a sense of urgency from all of us.”
If the Red and Blue hope to get back into the thick of the Ivy League race, they’ll have no better opportunity than Friday night.
Against Cornell (1-17, 0-4), Penn will be facing a team that has zero wins against Division I opponents. The Big Red rank last in the Ivy League in points per game and field goal percentage, and second to last in rebounds per games.
But the Quakers refuse to take Cornell lightly.
“First and foremost, we need to respect the game and ignore the numbers,” Allen said. “Those guys have Division I basketball players, [Cornell] coach [Bill] Courtney is doing all that he can in preparing his guys, and if they come out with the right mindset, we can easily be beat.”
The following night, Penn will do battle with one of the Ancient Eight’s upstart programs. Though Columbia (13-8, 2-2) dropped both Ivy contests last weekend, coach Kyle Smith has done wonders turning around a once-struggling program since taking over in 2010.
Thanks to a tough nonconference schedule and the play of junior forward Alex Rosenberg, the Lions are poised to finish the season near the top of the Ivy standings. Saturday’s contest certainly will not be an easy task for the struggling Quakers.
“Give coach Smith credit, his guys are playing well, they’re sharing the ball and doing things the right way, they play hard,” Allen said. “We’re gonna have our work cut out for us.”
For Penn to have any realistic shot at winning the Ivy League, two wins this weekend are essential.
Maybe the Quakers will benefit from having their backs against the wall.
“Cornell is going to come in here, and even though they’re not playing well, they’re going to come in thinking they can beat us and so will Columbia,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “And both of them can.
“If people don’t have a sense of urgency, a sense of desperation, then it needs to come pretty damn soon.”
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