Fifteen weeks into the 2018-2019 season, the Quakers will finally host an Ivy weekend series.
On Friday and Saturday, Penn men's basketball will take on Dartmouth and Harvard at the Palestra. The Red and Blue (14-8, 2-4 Ivy) currently sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the conference standings along with the Big Green (11-11, 2-4), their first opponent this weekend. Harvard (11-8, 4-2) is tied with Cornell and Princeton for second place in the Ivy League.
The Quakers are coming off of four successive away games, which they split with two wins and two losses. Last weekend, the Red and Blue walked away from Brown with a victory before falling to Yale the next day.
“I think in general, I’d like to see us take another step on the defensive end,” coach Steve Donahue said. “We played five out of six on the road — six out of eight if you count the other non-league games as well. I think getting back to transition defense, solid half-court man, so when we’re not shooting well we can still rely on that."
Looking forward, Donahue hopes that a pair of games at the Palestra will give the Quakers a major home-court advantage. The team will need to make improvements this weekend in order to come out with a couple of wins.
“Just getting back to our defense — I think that’s something that’s gotten away [from] us," Donahue said. "That happens a lot when you’re on the road. Teams shoot better when they’re at home."
Senior guard Antonio Woods echoed Donahue’s defense-focused sentiment.
“Yale killed us in transition, so for us, that’s a big emphasis this week considering that we play Dartmouth and Harvard, who both like to run in transition,” Woods said.
Along with making improvements from last week, the Red and Blue will look to shut down any advantages Dartmouth and Harvard might have.
“That’s going to be huge — knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their guys because they hurt us in a lot of different ways, and we have to be able to be ready and be prepared for all those types of moves and types of offenses that they have to throw at us,” junior forward AJ Brodeur said.
To find success on Friday, the Quakers will need to stop junior guard Brendan Barry, who has made 49.3 percent of his three-point attempts this season, the third-highest percentage in all of Division I. Dartmouth has also found high scoring from sophomore forward Chris Knight, who scored a career-high 27 points in a loss to Cornell last week.
On Saturday, Penn will look to shut down Harvard junior guard Bryce Aiken, who scored 44 points against Columbia last Friday, the second most points ever scored in a single game by a Harvard player. Twenty of those 44 points came in the three overtime periods of the Crimson's 98-96 win.
Junior guard Justin Bassey will also be a threat, as he recorded his second double-double of the season, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, in the Columbia game.
Despite the current League standings, Brodeur has high hopes for the weekend.
“We’re just hoping to get some positive momentum from this weekend,” Brodeur said. “It’s our first home Ivy weekend. We expect to come out with two wins this weekend, and we feel like that’ll give us a good push for the second half of Ivy League play.”
After this weekend, the Quakers will have played every Ancient Eight team at least once this season. As the Ivy Tournament approaches, Donahue knows that the Red and Blue will need to bear down in order to find success.
“The mentality of going into games knowing we can stop teams is critical during this last stretch of the season," he said. “Everybody’s in it.”
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