The Quakers were in jeopardy of finishing Big 5 play at 0-4 when they traveled across town to play La Salle last Wednesday. But behind freshman forward AJ Brodeur’s 35 points, the Red and Blue over the Explorers to finish 1-3 in the Philadelphia mini-conference instead.
In Cambridge on Friday, they will face a similar challenge. Penn (7-9, 0-3 Ivy) will enter Harvard’s gym hoping to avoid falling to 0-4 in Ivy play. Again on the road, again without a win and again against a tough opponent. The difference is this time they will be able to look back on how they closed their Big 5 slate as they prepare.
“A Big 5 win is always great. It’s a rivalry,” junior guard Darnell Foreman said. “La Salle is a really good team, so hopefully we can take what we did there, how we executed, and just push us towards the weekend knowing that they were a good opponent.”
Harvard (11-6, 3-1) has perennially been one of the toughest outs in the Ivy League, and with point guard Syani Chambers back after missing last season with an injury, they are firing on all cylinders again.
“They’re really good, they’re fast, they get the team involved, they can also score, so it’s gonna be challenging,” Foreman said of Harvard’s backcourt. “Basically just staying down on defense, staying focused and knowing what they wanna do before they do it.”
Their talent level is similar to many teams Penn has already faced this season, so their skill set should not catch the Quakers off guard.
“They’re different in some ways in our league, because they’re probably the longest and most athletic team in our league,” coach Steve Donahue explained. “So playing St. Joe’s and playing La Salle back to back with very similar athletes, that helps you.”
After dropping close contests to St. Joe’s, Yale and Princeton in recent weeks, the tight victory could serve as a springboard as the Quakers enter the thick of the Ivy League schedule.
“We’re hungry, we really know and understand the position we’re in. That being said, we’re also trying to figure out how to win still and I think we’re really close,” Donahue added.
“The energy’s good, the focus has been good, now the execution has to be good for 40 minutes. It’s good for 20, 25, 30. And as much as you wanna think, ‘oh we’ve gotta get a win,’ we’ve gotta play well for 40 minutes and try to simulate what we do in practice into a game and get better.”
Being able to finish a tight game against a strong opponent was an especially valuable experience for the core of young players that have seen their minutes increase.
In particular, freshmen Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman, as well as sophomore Tyler Hamilton, have caught Donahue’s attention.
“Those three in particular have really given us a lift,” Donahue said.
They’ll be key factors in this weekend’s trip to Cambridge and then Hanover the following night for a matchup with Dartmouth. Should the Red and Blue fall short against the Crimson, they should have little trouble getting their first league win against the Big Green on Saturday (3-14, 0-4). But a weekend sweep could be just what they need to catapult them into next week’s clash with conference-leading Princeton.
“This is conference [play] — this is our season right now, this is the time to really put all that ahead of us,” Foreman said. “Outworking the opponent, executing on both offense and defense, just having that extra edge about us that we definitely need.”
The game should be close on Friday night. Hopefully for the Quakers, they’ll have the experience to pull away.
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