It’s not a storybook ending, but it will have to do.
For a Penn basketball senior class that has battled through all sorts of adversity over four seasons, what’s one more challenge?
With their postseason hopes all but gone, the Quakers (7-16, 4-5 Ivy) will host Brown and Yale this weekend, hoping to pick up a sweep in the final Palestra home games for Miles Jackson-Cartwright, Fran Dougherty, Dau Jok, Steve Rennard and Cameron Gunter .
Both the Bears (14-10, 6-4) and Bulldogs (14-10, 8-2) present similar challenges for the Quakers, as each team is anchored by an imposing inside presence to go along with strong guard support.
Brown is led by imposing sophomore forward Cedric Kuakumensah , the reigning Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, while Yale’s offense flows through sophomore forward Justin Sears . Sears has scored in double figures in nine of his 10 Ivy games this season and torched the Quakers for 25 points in a 69-54 Bulldogs victory two weeks ago in New Haven, Conn.
But neither player’s presence on the block intimidates the Red and Blue.
“Both of them are not the most disciplined players,” sophomore forward Darien Nelson-Henry said. “They go for a lot of shot-fakes. I think it would be easy to get them out of the game if me and Fran [Dougherty] do what we’re able to do down low.”
On the outside, while Yale is largely dependent on the tandem play of guards Javier Duren and Armani Cotton , Brown’s perimeter offense rests largely on the shoulders of one man - senior guard Sean McGonagill .
The second-leading scorer in the Ivy League, McGonagill’s late three-point shooting burned the Quakers in a 62-55 loss to the Bears in Providence, R.I., the last time these two teams met. The Red and Blue are aiming to prevent a similar scoring burst this time around.
“With McGonagill, we’re gonna really try and wear him out,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “It’s gonna take Steve [Rennard to] really start going at him.”
But the key to a potential Penn sweep may be a matter of simply holding on to the basketball on the offensive end.
In their losses to Brown and Yale two weeks ago, the Quakers committed a combined 42 turnovers. In last Saturday’s win over Dartmouth, Penn committed only 11 giveaways.
“I think this has to be a weekend where we can’t have unforced errors offensively and high teens in terms of the turnovers per game,” coach Jerome Allen said.
The biggest story of this weekend, though, is the impending Palestra swan song for a senior class that has fought through three losing seasons and has come agonizingly close to a one-game Ivy playoff in a fourth.
It’s almost inconceivable to imagine a Penn basketball game at the Palestra without Jok leading cheers from the sidelines or Jackson-Cartwright driving the lane, but that day is coming - and soon.
“This day has been a day that I haven’t really been looking forward to,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “But it’s been a great experience. Regardless of wins and losses, it’s been a blessing to play as many games as I’ve had in this building. I’m gonna miss it.”
And the cohesiveness of Penn’s senior class may be what stands out most in the end.
“Obviously we all wish that we could celebrate more wins,” Allen said. “ But in my book, just their maturity, their sense of awareness about community and selflessness has made me proud.”
Despite its struggles, after the clock hits triple zeroes in Penn’s Saturday Senior Day matchup against the Bulldogs, that may just be the legacy this senior class leaves behind.
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