There will be no buses this weekend. No goodbyes to friends and family. No eyelids propped open, squinting at Marketing slides as the rest of the team slumbers in a dimmed cabin. This weekend, things will be comfortable.
In the midst of a rare two-week home stretch, the Penn men’s basketball team will remain at the Palestra this weekend to face Ivy foes Cornell and Columbia. Having already stolen two victories on the grueling road trip through the Empire State in mid-January, the Red and Blue get to play host this time around.
Though the first matchups between the schools clearly showed home court isn’t always an advantage, comfort is a fortune that Penn star point guard Zack Rosen doesn’t take for granted.
“Obviously it’s a bit of an advantage when you’re home,” he said. “You’ve got a home crowd. You don’t have to pack. You don’t have to get on a bus. You know the rims, you know the court, you know the depth. It’s basically just like playing in your home playground.”
If the Quakers can’t convert from the field, however, all the friendly bounces in the world won’t help them make it through the weekend unscathed. In its loss to Harvard, Penn shot just 32.1 percent from the field and a paltry 22.7 percent from distance.
“You still have to put forth the same effort and energy as far as getting better,” coach Jerome Allen said. “There’s still a lot of basketball left, so whether we’re here for the week or on the road, we’ve still got work to do.”
“You’ve got to come out here and win these games,” Rosen echoed. “We’re going to be comfortable, but not too comfortable.”
Despite some inconsistency as of late, the Red and Blue will look to capitalize this Friday and Saturday on an increasingly raucous home crowd. Over 11,000 fans combined came out to watch the Quakers host Harvard and Dartmouth, and though they split the series, the squad remains very much in the thick of Ivy title contention. With a second weekend homestand in the fold, there has never been a better time for the Red and Blue to build up some momentum.
“Last Friday night was — and I’ve spoken to a lot of people — the loudest they’d ever seen this place. Ever. So, for me, for us, that’s great,” Rosen said. “It was really special. Overall, I think it just shows how much people care about the program and how far this thing has come in such a short time.”
Though fans came out in droves to watch the Quakers take on the nationally-ranked Crimson, this weekend’s attendance will perhaps be a truer barometer of the buzz surrounding the squad. No team in recent memory has been so close to the top of the standings this late in the season, and the team will need all the support it can get if it hopes to secure Penn’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2007.
“Here’s what I’ll say, and hopefully they print it,” Rosen said. “We win these next few games, and where are we at the 2nd and 3rd of March? Spring break right? I hope people stay. I hope people book tickets [for break] on the 4th … It’ll be on us to have our own party.”
But even with a title run in its sights, Penn must stick to the here and now. Cornell is on a three-game winning streak, while Columbia was a buzzer beater away from upsetting Penn the first time around.
There will be no easy wins at the Palestra this weekend, and they won’t find any cheap buckets. And at least for a second week, there will also be no buses.