Trying to put memories of Tuesday's uninspired defeat at the hands of archrival Princeton behind them, the Penn men's basketball team hits the road this weekend in an unfamiliar position -- second place. The Quakers (8-14, 5-2 Ivy League) left campus after a short practice last night and headed north for a crucial two-game swing through New York. With half of the Ivy League slate behind them, and with Princeton now seated squarely in front of them, the Red and Blue have no room for error at Cornell and Columbia. "Hopefully we'll come out as an angry team," said Penn senior captain Geoff Owens, who netted 15 points in Tuesday's loss. "In game situations, it seems like we play better when we're angry and when we play like our backs are against the wall." While it's not quite the ideal scenario for the Quakers to have to play with their backs against the wall at this late stage in the season, that is nonetheless where the team finds itself. And though Penn handily defeated Cornell, 64-49, and Columbia, 65-44, in early January, both of these squads will no doubt look at the success that Princeton enjoyed on Tuesday for pointers on how to take down the Quakers this time around. "I think we're going to face some matchup zone with Cornell -- and we've faced matchup before," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "[Against Princeton] we changed to attack it in a certain way, and had some opportunities in the first half, which we didn't make any shots with. "And then the second half, we made a couple of adjustments and ran a little different offensive look and got some better looks at it. But when people have those open shots, we've got to knock them down." For whatever reason, the Quakers have struggled in their last few games against relatively weak Ivy league squads. Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe did not make a basket for the first 33 minutes against Princeton. The Quakers vaunted front line was outrebounded badly by a smaller Tigers squad. And outside gunner Lamar Plummer has fallen off a bit since a hot start; he went just 2-for-12 from the field on Tuesday night. Those kind of numbers will just not cut it if Penn expects to sweep this weekend's contests and keep pace in the Ivy race. Tonight's matchup against Cornell (5-15, 2-6) appears on paper to be the easier game of the weekend, but nothing can be taken for granted with former Penn assistant Steve Donahue now manning the opposing sideline as the Big Red's head man. While Cornell's offense is shooting an anemic 38.8 percent from the field -- worst in the Ivies -- their lineup is still potent with three-year starters Ray Mercedes and Wallace Prather. Mercedes, a senior forward who led Cornell to an upset victory over Penn three years ago, has been spotty at best this winter. The captain's 12.4 points per game leads the Big Red, but his erratic shooting has led him to the bench several times. Another force that Penn will have to contend with is freshman Ka'ron Barnes. The six-foot guard threw down 14 points off the bench for the Big Red in his first game against the Red and Blue earlier in the season. Following a five-hour bus ride from Ithaca to Manhattan, the Quakers will face a hungry Columbia (6-13, 3-5) squad in the back end of this road trip. The Lions suffered two gut-wrenching defeats at the buzzer last weekend, which could provide their youthful squad with added motivation against Penn. Despite 31 points from junior forward Craig Austin, Columbia lost in double-overtime, 80-78, to Yale last Saturday. That loss -- on the heels of a 60-59 loss to Brown that saw the Bears convert three free throws with no time on the clock for the win -- has driven the Lions down to the bottom half of the Ivies. "I honestly have no idea how we'll rebound from these losses," Columbia coach Armond Hill said. "This was just a very difficult weekend." Indeed, the past two weeks have been tumultuous ones in the Ancient Eight. Winners have become losers, and vice versa, as four teams are within striking distance of the Ivy crown. While Penn has defeated Cornell in their past five matchups, and topped Columbia in 17 consecutive meetings, no game can be taken for granted from here on out. "There's great parity in the league this year, and I think that is cause for any one team beating any other team at any time," Dunphy said. "Columbia could have come away from last weekend two-and-oh, instead they're oh-and-two. Still, they're playing well enough to win, and you've got to keep that in mind." Much has been made of the fact that Penn is now in the exact same position that it found itself two years ago at this time -- when the Quakers ran the table, defeated Princeton in their second meeting and went to the NCAA Tournament. And if Penn is to make history repeat itself, it has to begin this weekend with a pair of important road victories.Comments powered by Disqus
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