Penn basketball knew that its opening set of non-conference games to start the season would be challenging. The Quakers were right.
Faced with matchups against a host of solid opponents, including a talented Miami team as well as defending NCAA national champion and currently No. 1-ranked Villanova, the Quakers (2-4) have shown improvement, but not the anticipated results quite yet.
For Wednesday’s game against Lafayette (3-4), Penn is hoping a win would jumpstart the team into a successful rest of the season.
“We have had a couple tough road losses and we were right there in some of them. I think we just need to take the next step forward,” said sophomore guard Jake Silpe. “We have had great preparation since the Temple loss and we are playing great as a team. Things are going to click.”
Penn coach Steve Donahue is pleased with how is young team has looked, but he is ready to start seeing victories.
“One of the biggest hurdles in gaining confidence and getting ready for the Ivy League season is having some success,” he said. “At the same time, I’m still trying to evaluate so many new bodies that we have and giving guys that have played well in practice the opportunity to see if they can help us in games.”
This week’s game will also be unique opportunity for Donahue to face off against a longtime coworker and friend, Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon. The two were assistants together at Penn in the 1990s under then-head coach Fran Dunphy, who is now at Temple, who edged out the Quakers last Saturday.
“I stay in touch pretty regularly throughout my coaching career,” Donahue said. ”[O’Hanlon] is probably my closest friend in the business. I actually don’t like playing these games, though, I just like getting them over with.”
The two teams come in sharing a good amount of each other’s schedule. Villanova — 25-point victors over the Quakers — handed the Leopards an 88-48 shellacking in Lafayette’s season opener. Penn is already the third Ivy League team the Leopards will have taken on this year, falling to Cornell, 82-75, and Princeton, 71-55, just before Thanksgiving.
Over the years, this Lafayette matchup has become a permanent fixture on Penn basketball’s annual schedule. The familiarity of the styles of play for coaches and players that have been involved in these games brings a new element of strategy to the week of preparation.
“What we need to be careful of is that, because we know what is coming because we have faced Fran and his team before, we must be careful to not overload these guys with information,” Donahue said. “When it comes down to it, we are trying to do similar things offensively and defensively; it’s what players execute it better.”
Additionally, the Quakers come in looking to avenge last season’s loss in game that that saw them getting crushed for most of the contest, before cutting the lead to just six points at the final buzzer thanks to a flurry of second-half shooting.
“They handed it to us last year, so this is our revenge game,” Silpe said. “So we are going to come in hot, come in ready, and take what’s ours.”
The Red and Blue have three more games before taking more than two weeks off for finals. Lafayette offers the first chance for the Quakers to build a little bit of momentum heading into that break.