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Sophomore guard Matt Poplawski set a strong example for his teammates on Friday, making his first career start in the place of suspended junior captain Tony Hicks.

Credit: Ilana Wurman

Well, this is getting pretty familiar.

On a snowy Boston night at a sold-out Lavietes Pavillion, Penn basketball was handed another humbling loss by Harvard. Just like the Quakers' 25-point loss to the Crimson on Jan. 31, Friday's 69-46 defeat again emphasized just how far Penn is from the Ancient Eight’s top tier.

It was the Red and Blue's fourth consecutive loss, with each defeat coming by at least 16 points. Penn has now lost five of its past six games, with those losses coming by a combined 118.

Playing without suspended guard Tony Hicks, the Red and Blue looked overmatched in every facet of Friday’s game. Star Harvard guard Wesley Saunders tallied a seemingly effortless 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting, while teammate Steve Moundou-Missi added 14 of his own. 

In contrast, Penn struggled to replace Hicks’ scoring, with freshman Antonio Woods leading the Quakers' offense with a modest 12 points. Still, the Red and Blue failed to muster much of anything against a suffocating Crimson defense.

But it would be inaccurate to pin the Quakers’ struggles on a talent deficiency alone. 

Sure, Penn lacks a transcendent star such as Saunders and was playing without its leading scorer, but the Red and Blue, in many ways, have only themselves to blame. The team looked flat and uninterested as the game wore on, picking up unnecessary fouls — Darien Nelson-Henry had four in just 23 minutes — and turning the ball over at inopportune times.

Perhaps the night’s most telling statistic concerns second-chance points: The Crimson outscored the Quakers 20-4 in the category, a product of their domination of the offensive glass.

This eye-popping statistic is especially concerning given that Penn has several big men capable of pulling down their fair share of rebounds — Mike Auger, Greg Louis and Nelson-Henry all average at least 4.4 per game and can dominate the boards on any given night.

So the Quakers' inability to compete on the offensive glass is not a result of a size disadvantage. Rather, it is the symptom of an even bigger problem that seems to be worsening with each passing game — a simple lack of effort.

To be fair, not every Red and Blue player is guilty. Sophomore guard Matt Poplawski got his first career start in Hicks’ stead and brought unmistakable hustle and energy. 

Is it a bit concerning that the Quakers’ starting point guard is a soccer player by trade and scored his first career field goal two games ago? Probably. But it is also undeniable that Poplawski is sort of an anti-Tony Hicks; a scrappy, team-first player who survives off of hustle and brains, not natural talent.

“[The start] was something that he earned and he deserved,” coach Jerome Allen said of his newly-minted starter. “He worked hard every day in practice. He’s selfless, he’s a team guy. He has a lot of energy. His voice is great.”

So, if the Red and Blue are to end their disappointing 2014-15 campaign on a positive note, it would behoove them to take a cue from Poplawski. If they keep exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior both on and off the court — this was Hicks’ third suspension in three years — and playing with questionable effort on it, beatdowns such as Friday night’s loss will become the norm. 

However, if it plays with a little extra octane, confidence and smarts, this Penn squad is more than capable of keeping up with teams like Harvard. After all, the Quakers competed throughout the first period and closed the deficit to within three after halftime before facing the Crimson's blitz.

So, was tonight the start of the Matt Poplawski era, or at least something close to it? We shall see.

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