Last year, it only took three losses for the Quakers to lose the Ivy League title. This year, it has taken just three Ivy games for the Red and Blue to pick up two losses.
As a result, it is an understatement for Penn to call this weekend’s matchups must-win games.
“Every game for us is a must-win at this point,” junior captain Miles Cartwright said.
Tonight, the Quakers (4-16, 1-2 Ivy) will take on Yale at the Palestra at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Red and Blue will face off against Brown.
The Quakers will be missing two of their best players, Fran Dougherty and Steve Rennard, both of whom are likely to miss the rest of the season with injuries.
“Nothing’s going to change schematically for us [without them],” coach Jerome Allen said. “We’re going to continue to play the way we’ve been playing and trying to get better on the defensive end.”
Penn has swept its home stand against the Bulldogs (7-14, 1-3 Ivy) and Bears (8-10, 2-2 Ivy) the past two years and will likely need to do so again to keep its Ivy hopes alive.
But Allen is not looking too far ahead just yet. “I’m only worried about one game, and that’s Friday’s game,” he said. “It’s the most important game because it’s the next game.”
Allen believes that Yale will be a formidable opponent for the Quakers.
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re athletic, they defend,” Allen said.
Against the Bulldogs, he emphasized that the keys to victory are “playing a full game and keeping guys out of the paint.”
Rebounding, a struggle for the Quakers all season long, will be critical against Yale. The Bulldogs are first in the Ivy League in rebounding margin, while the Quakers are last. The Red and Blue will certainly miss Dougherty, who leads the Ivy League with 8.1 rebounds per game.
“[Yale] coach [James] Jones’s teams always play hard defensively, they always compete on the backboard,” Allen said. “We gotta keep them off the offensive glass and outrun them a little bit.”
Saturday’s game will also mark the return of former Penn assistant coach and current first-year Brown head coach Mike Martin to the Palestra.
Cartwright expects that Martin will try to catch the Quakers off guard defensively.
“We have to be ready for anything,” Cartwright said. “Coach Martin is an offensive genius. He’s going to draw up a lot of things we haven’t seen on tape.”
The Quakers’ scoring defense is ranked just seventh in the conference, but defense is still the team’s cornerstone. In fact, Allen expects to allocate minutes to his players based off their defensive effort.
“[Defense] has been my stamp since I got here from day one,” Allen said. “If you don’t defend or attempt to defend, you won’t play for this program.”
Offensively, Miles Cartwright expects more of the scoring load to fall on his shoulders with Dougherty and Rennard injured.
“Without Fran, I have to be more aggressive,” Cartwright said. “I’m going to try to be assertive and I know the team’s going to need me late in games because I have the most experience in those types of games.”
Though the Quakers will be shorthanded, Allen claims that “you can’t make excuses not to go and get it done.”
Still, there is no doubt that the two crucial injuries will make it harder for the Quakers to “get it done” this weekend against Yale and Brown.
Senior Sports Editor Mike Tony contributed reporting.
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