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Though just a freshman, guard Jackson Donahue has come into his own for the Quakers, and put up a career high 25 points against Cornell last weekend.

Credit: Lizzy Machielse

They say that the second time’s the charm. Luckily, the Ivy League schedule provides for exactly that.

This weekend, Penn men’s basketball will play host to Yale and Brown, two opponents who have already beaten the Quakers (9-12, 3-4 Ivy) this season. The Red and Blue were rocked, 81-58, by the Bulldogs (17-5, 8-0) in New Haven on Jan. 29 before falling, 89-83, to the Bears (7-15, 2-6) the following evening.

“We just didn’t guard that weekend, for whatever reason,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said of the pair of losses. “We know we’re better than that, and we’ve learned from it.”

The Red and Blue indeed seem to have turned a corner since then, winning three of their past four contests, including a 92-84 shootout victory at Cornell last Saturday. That win was fueled by a career-high 25 points from freshman guard Jackson Donahue, who has been the Quakers’ primary scorer for much of the second half of the season.

Donahue’s stellar Saturday performance was aided by several points in the paint, a positive development for a player who has normally operated almost exclusively from three-point range.

“I think I’ve adjusted well to being known as ‘the shooter,’ and finding those holes to the hoop that they don’t think I’m going to take,” Donahue said. “It’s just all about those little things that I’ve worked at getting better at.”

The Quakers will also benefit from the post presence of senior Darien Nelson-Henry, who missed much of the first go-around against the Elis and Bears after sustaining an ankle injury at practice prior to those matchups.

The forward has been an offensive force since missing those two games, however, averaging 15.8 points per game over the team’s last four contests. Last weekend, Nelson-Henry even emerged as a distributor, dishing out six assists (a career high) in each of the two games.

The Red and Blue will first take on Brown on Friday night. The Quakers’ previous loss to the Bears was one of the team’s most frustrating of the season, as Penn led for much of the game before scoring only two of the game’s final eleven points. That victory was one of only two so far for Brown in Ivy League play; the squad currently sits tied for last in the Ancient Eight.

“That first weekend really hurt us,” Jackson Donahue said. “We’re keeping in the back of our mind how we felt after those losses. But we also have to remember how far we’ve come.”

The Quakers’ loss to Yale was much less of a fluke. The Bulldogs, co-Ivy League champions a season ago and conference favorites going into 2015-16, have made short work of their Ivy competition, winning all eight of their games by an average of 14 points.

Senior forward Justin Sears, the Ivy League Player of the Year in 2014-15, has been his dominant self, pacing the Bulldogs with 16.5 points per game. Sophomore point guard Makai Mason has averaged 15.9 points of his own while dishing out 3.8 assists per game, second in the conference behind Brown’s Tavon Blackmon.

A win over Yale, unlike a takedown of Brown, would be a season-defining upset for the Quakers, who still sit below .500 in conference play and in fourth currently. However, to hear the Red and Blue’s coach say it, both of these weekend’s contests are far from predetermined.

“We’re playing well, but we know we can play better. We’ve still got half of the season left,” Donahue said. “Each of the teams that have beat us, we feel we can compete with and beat.”

And in the eyes of the first-year coach, an Ivy title, however unlikely, is still well within reach.

“Who knows what’ll happen? The conference is still wide open.”

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