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As senior Darien Nelson-Henry heads into the final games of his collegiate career, Penn basketball hopes to play spoiler for first-place Princeton and record its first winning Ivy season since 2011-2012.

Credit: Ananya Chandra , Ananya Chandra

Over spring break, Penn basketball will be seeing many ends. Unless the Red and Blue end up with a postseason bid, the break will bring the end of the college careers of seniors Darien Nelson-Henry and Jamal Lewis, the end of head coach Steve Donahue’s first year at the helm and possibly the end of the Quakers’ first winning Ivy season since the 2011-12 campaign.

Penn (11-14, 5-6 Ivy) will hit the road over the next week to take on Dartmouth (9-17, 3-9), Harvard (12-16, 4-8), and Princeton (20-5, 10-1) as the Ancient Eight season comes to its conclusion.

The Red and Blue will be looking to repeat their performance against the Big Green and Crimson after defeating them in back to back nights at the Palestra earlier this season.

Princeton, however, poses a unique situation for the Quakers. Penn is vying for revenge after dropping an overtime heartbreaker against the Tigers in January. Along with that, Princeton is in a position to surpass Yale for the Ivy League title, meaning with a win, the Red and Blue could spoil the Tigers’ chances for an Ancient Eight title and NCAA Tournament berth.

In the midst of his final and best season as a member of the Red and Blue, Nelson-Henry is excited for the opportunity to finish the his Penn basketball career on a high note.

“This is the first time I could go .500 overall and in Ivies,” he said. “It would be huge to know that my last year was statistically the best since I’ve gotten here.”

He was even more eager to potentially ruin Princeton’s season and postseason aspirations.

“Being the spoiler is fun anyways, but especially when it’s against Princeton. If we can mess up Princeton’s season then nothing would make me happier — other than winning an Ivy League championship, of course — but this is the second best I could ask for.”

While Nelson-Henry voiced his excitement at the idea of playing the role of spoiler, coach Steve Donahue had his eyes set on what winning these final three contests could mean for his program as they continue to build into next year and beyond.

“We’re just trying to build on what we’ve already done this season,” he said. “What I mentioned to the team is that this starts our championship run. We are going to start building right now, figuring out how we are going to win on the road and obviously take it into next year. There are so many things on the line that we are excited about.”

The improvement will need to continue on the defensive side of the ball for Penn to end its season with three victories, especially after its dismal performance in a loss to Yale last weekend.

“We were frustrated with our defense. It has been something that we’ve been pretty consistent with but weren’t last weekend. I want to make sure that we play extremely hard at Dartmouth and Harvard. Execution is important but competing is way more important and that’s what we like to see.”

Donahue also discussed how his squad must to learn how to win important games even when they aren’t playing their best.

“We’re still one year into this. Winning basketball games is a huge tool for motivating this summer and knowing how good you can be,” Donahue said. “Getting that win validates all that work you’ve put in. Playing well is good, but at this point figuring out how to win, whether you play well or not, is probably more important.”

Despite everything coming to an end for the Quakers, these final three contests could be the start of something even bigger in the future for Penn basketball.

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