They say there’s no “I” in team, that all players are created equal.
But Penn basketball will be soon be reminded that some players are more equal than others, as the Quakers will take on four of the conference’s top players when Cornell and Columbia visit the Palestra this weekend for the men’s final home games of the season.
The Red and Blue (10-13, 3-5 Ivy) will first square off with Cornell (9-15, 2-8 ) on Friday night. In the teams’ first meeting, the Quakers prevailed, 92-84, in Ithaca in a shootout that featured seven different players scoring at least 14 points. Freshman Jackson Donahue scored a team-high 25, contributing to Penn’s highest single-game team point total since Nov. 2009.
The Big Red are no strangers to high-scoring efforts, as freshman Matt Morgan and junior Robert Hatter have taken advantage of the team’s high-octane system and occupy two of the top three spots in the Ivy League’s points per game leaderboard. Morgan leads the conference with 19.1 points per contest while Hatter has averaged 17.3 of his own.
“They press you, they force you to go fast. That’s part of their strategy,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “You just have to take good shots, make good passes and not turn the ball over.”
However, as their game versus Penn suggested, the Big Red’s frenetic, shootout style of play has led to plenty of points for themselves — but often even more for their opponents. Cornell currently sits tied with Brown for last in the conference with its 2-8 Ivy record.
After the Red and Blue spend a day catching their breath, they will take on Columbia (19-8, 8-2) Saturday. The Lions have a dynamic duo of their own, as seniors Maodo Lo — the Ivy League’s scoring leader a year ago — and Alex Rosenberg also rank among the conference’s top 10 in PPG. Along with Princeton and Yale, Columbia is a clear member of the Ivy League’s elite tier, currently sitting at third in the conference standings.
The Quakers managed to keep the game relatively close during their 63-53 loss to the Lions on Feb. 12 despite shooting only 36 percent from the field in a rough offensive night the Penn coach is confident his team will not repeat.
“Columbia played really well that night,” Donahue said. “I’d like to think we’re better now. We’ve learned from that experience.”
If the Quakers are to win either game, they will likely need to rely on continued excellence from junior forward Matt Howard. Though his play has often been overshadowed by Darien Nelson-Henry’s solid senior season and the emergence of a deep freshman class, the South Carolina native sits second on the team in both points (12.6) and rebounds (5.8) per game.
“We really feed off his energy,” sophomore guard Darnell Foreman said. “I’m not sure if the fans can see it from the sideline, but he’s really a major game-changer.”
“He’s really efficient from both ends of the floor,” Donahue added. “He guards bigger guys. He is one of our best rebounders, and he’s one of the best two-point shooters in the country. He’s number one in the league; he shoots 67, 68 percent [from two-point range.]”
Perhaps most importantly, Howard has stepped it up when the games have mattered most – he’s averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game in Ivy play while making 52 percent of his field goals.
However, this weekend will primarily test the junior’s defensive ability, as Howard will likely be tasked with guarding some combination of Morgan, Hatter, Lo and Rosenberg.
And if the first part of the season is any indication, Howard will be more than up to the task.
Because after all, you have to beat the best to be the best.
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