Penn men's basketball has its backs against the wall

After dropping both games last weekend, Penn returns home to face Harvard, Dartmouth

· February 20, 2014, 9:02 pm   ·  Updated February 20, 2014, 11:25 pm

Robert F. Worley | DP

Harvard senior captain Laurent Rivard has been key to the Crimson’s 7-1 Ivy start and figures to play a significant role in this weekend's matchup against Penn.


At this point, it’s likely that the only thing Penn men’s basketball has left to play for is pride.

With that in mind, maybe playing to salvage a shred of respect from this dismal season will help a scuffling squad turn its fortunes around as it heads into the homestretch of the 2013-14 campaign.

Following two grueling defeats at the hands of Yale and Brown last weekend, the Red and Blue (6-15, 3-4 Ivy) will now return home for another Ivy doubleheader, this time against Harvard and Dartmouth .

The last time the Quakers played at the Palestra, it seemed as if coach Jerome Allen’s squad had finally turned a corner. Penn took games against Cornell and Columbia two weeks ago, its first Ivy weekend sweep in nearly two seasons.

Riding high and back in the thick of the Ivy League race heading into last weekend, the Red and Blue were looking to string together consecutive strong performances.

But up against Yale, a team currently tied for first in the Ancient Eight, Penn returned to its inconsistent ways, losing 69-54 . The Quakers followed that up with a seven point defeat to Brown in Providence the next evening.

“Last weekend, there were some stretches ... where we defended even though we weren’t scoring the ball,” Allen said. “We just couldn’t finish.

“Obviously, we didn’t do a good job taking care of the basketball and that’s really been our focus this week, trying to limit teams to one shot and just trusting the system offensively.”

After last weekend, it’s nearly impossible to envision Penn contending for the Ivy title. Both Harvard and Yale sit atop the standings with only one loss, and the Quakers haven’t won more than two games in a row in either of the last two seasons.

“We’re trying to take everything one game at a time,” Allen said. “Mathematically we still have opportunities and we’ll need a little help, but we can only control what’s in front of us.”

If Penn hopes to have any shot at competing for the Ivy title, the team will likely need to win every game for the rest of the season. But that’s no small task for the Red and Blue.

On Friday , first-place Harvard (20-4, 7-1) comes to town. Though the Crimson defeated Penn by 30 when the two played on Feb. 1, the Quakers know what it takes to upset an Ivy League giant.

Last season, one in which Penn failed to crack double digit wins, the Red and Blue shocked Harvard at the Palestra. The defeat was one of only three Ivy losses for the Crimson in 2012-13 , and it would be the last time coach Tommy Amaker’s squad lost before the third round of the NCAA tournament.

Harvard is led by a group of veteran players including senior guard Laurent Rivard and defending Ivy League Player of the Year junior Wesley Saunders .

“They get out in transition, they play hard, they spread you out and they don’t make mistakes,” Allen said. “Harvard is a tough team to beat.”

Following the matchup with Harvard, the Quakers will take on Dartmouth (9-13, 2-6) .

It’s been a difficult year for the Big Green. After losing junior Gabas Maldunas for the year midway through the season, Dartmouth has had trouble scoring consistently.

The Big Green are second-to-last in scoring in the Ivy League and do not have a player ranked in the top-15 in scoring. Sophomore guard Alex Mitola leads Dartmouth with 10.5 points per contest.

Despite Dartmouth’s struggles this season, Penn isn’t taking anything for granted this weekend. Allen and company believe that any game is winnable regardless of the stature of the opponent.

“For us, when we face adversity and an unfamiliar setting, we need to do a better job of trusting the system,” Allen said. “We need to get some easy shots, play through contact and we haven’t done that thus far.

“But we’re home, we’re in our comfort zone and in front of our fans, hopefully we’ll be able to produce.”

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