Just as the colonists didn't realize the full importance of Saratoga until they made it to Yorktown, the Penn Quakers won't know if Lafayette once again marks a turning point in their season until they leave Princeton's Jadwin Gym on March 6. As Penn men's basketball coach Fran Dunphy made clear after his squad's 82-74 win over the Leopards on Saturday, wins over Lafayette have proved pivotal turning points in the Quakers' past two seasons. In both '98-'99 and '99-'00, victories over Fran O'Hanlon's teams helped drive the Red and Blue through their season's stretch run. Penn (4-10, 2-0 Ivy League) will get its first chance to see if it has turned a corner tonight when it tips off against Lehigh at 7:00 p.m. in the Palestra. "I don't know if beating Lafayette is a turning point for us," Penn senior shooting guard Lamar Plummer said. "I can't predict the future. All I can say is that I know we are becoming more of a team." With tonight's matchup, the gelling Quakers begin a four-game homestand -- which also includes games against St. Joseph's, Yale and Brown -- that will go a long way in determining the course and tenor of the the second half of their season. The annual contest against the Engineers usually goes Penn's way -- the Quakers have won the past nine and 31 of 34 total games -- but the Red and Blue would be foolish to take tonight for granted. Lehigh (8-9, 2-2 Patriot League) is admittedly flawed, but the Quakers -- who have already lost their share to less-than-perfect teams this season -- are taking on a scrappy Engineers squad that is looking forward to playing the role of impudent house guest tonight at the Palestra. "Tomorrow will be a tough challenge for us, especially coming off a tough loss [86-79] at Colgate," Lehigh sophomore guard Matt Logie said. "We have a very young team, and as long as we take it with a grain of salt, we'll be alright. But it's a good test to play Penn right now." That loss at Colgate, which came on Saturday, evened Lehigh's league mark at 2-2. The Engineers is also 2-3 against the Ivy League this year, with wins against Dartmouth and Cornell and defeats at the hands of Harvard, Columbia and Brown. With a distinctly deep bench, Lehigh will almost certainly bring heavy defensive pressure to bear on the host Quakers this evening. "Every once in a while, they'll settle back into zone, but pressure has basically always been their M.O.," Dunphy said. "That's something we're expecting and something we've worked on." Yesterday at practice, as Dunphy stressed to his team the importance of attacking that Lehigh pressure, the word he harped on most was 'poise', and this seems to be what the Quakers need to cultivate if they want to cruise through the remainder of their schedule. They need to develop poise in transition against the press. They need to develop poise on defense, in half-court sets on offense and, of course, on the free-throw line. At Lafayette, the Red and Blue definitely exemplified more than a modicum of this poise, shooting 51 percent from the field and connecting on an uncharacteristically clutch 80 percent from the line. Asked if he is pushing his team exceptionally hard to develop, Dunphy responds by saying that he's not being terribly harsh. Yes, he was disappointed by the losses to Drexel and Delaware, but Dunphy doesn't think he has been coming down hard on his youthful Quakers. "These guys have no concept of how tough it's been for other teams in the past," Dunphy said.Comments powered by Disqus
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