With four games left in the season, every game feels like a must-win for the Quakers.
This weekend, Penn men’s basketball will go on the road to face Harvard and Dartmouth on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. In their previous matchups this season against these two Ivy League foes, the Quakers (16-10, 4-6 Ivy) fell to Harvard (14-9, 7-3) in overtime and narrowly defeated Dartmouth (11-15, 2-8) in a three-point overtime victory.
Just how important are these games for the Quakers?
Penn is currently in sixth place in the Ancient Eight. In order to make the Ivy League Tournament, the Quakers need to pass Cornell and Brown — both 5-5 in conference play — in the final four games of the season. Penn has one game remaining against Brown. The Quakers split their previous two meetings with Cornell this season.
“A lot of people think that it’s dead for us. We still have a chance to get into the Ivy League Tournament, so we just have to take it one game at a time and stay focused,” senior guard Antonio Woods said.
Four of the Quakers' 10 Ivy League games so far have been decided by three points or less, including four overtime contests. These close matchups have allowed the Quakers to become experienced in critical moments of games.
“I think all adversity, if you use it properly, is a great tool for growth. If you sulk in it and have a mentality that it’s very frustrating, then you don’t learn from it,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I believe we have played better, we have learned from it.”
In Penn’s previous meeting against Harvard, the Quakers once again went to overtime. In that contest, the Quakers struggled to shoot from the perimeter. The Red and Blue, who have shot an average of 36 percent from long range this season, only made 25 percent of their attempts from behind the arc in that game. In addition, defending the Crimson will be a specific area of emphasis for Penn.
“We are going to focus on our defense," Woods said. "I feel like [Harvard] got to the basket at will at times [in the first matchup]. They got a couple of late offensive rebounds at the end that led to some shots to tie the game. So expect a big emphasis on rebounding and defense."
Penn will have to prepare for Harvard’s star junior guard Bryce Aiken. Aiken, who is averaging 21.8 points per game, scored 25 against the Quakers in their matchup earlier this season. One key to the game for the Red and Blue will be finding a way to slow Aiken down.
“They have a lot of guys that know their role and they do it pretty well," Woods said. "For us, it’s the whole team, it’s a whole team effort. We have to prepare for all of them individually."
After facing Harvard, the Quakers will travel to Hanover, N.H. to face Dartmouth. In the midst of a four-game losing streak, Dartmouth has four players averaging double-digit scoring. Most notably, sophomore forward Chris Knight has been a dominant force on both offense and defense for Dartmouth. Knight leads the team in points per game with 15.6, as well as total blocks and rebounds with 34 and 177, respectively.
“We have a big test ahead. At Harvard, at Dartmouth — it’s probably the biggest weekend for us of the year. Both hostile environments to play, we just have to take it a game at a time,” Woods said.
Donahue has not found it necessary to stress the obvious importance of these games to his squad.
“I don't think it helps you to say, 'Hey, it's really important.' What’s important is that we come in here, everyone doing whatever they can to get each other better. We have great energy, great enthusiasm, and try to do something a little bit better to help us this weekend," Donahue said.
On the road, the Quakers will do everything they can to stay alive in the Ivy League race this weekend.
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