Sitting third in the Ivies, the Quakers need a sweep to stay in the title race
Talk to point guard Zack Rosen, and he’ll tell you that in Ivy League play, added familiarity between opponents breeds increasingly intense, physical and tactical bouts.
So when the Quakers (13-11, 5-2 Ivy) host Cornell and Columbia this weekend — two teams that Penn defeated on the road five weeks ago — they understand that Round Two will have a much different look. What happened last time has no bearing come Friday.
Indeed, it would be foolish for Penn to assume that its 64-52 win over Cornell on Jan. 14, when the Quakers held the Big Red (10-12, 5-3) to just 37.5-percent shooting, will be duplicated.
After all, Cornell has made great strides as of late. The Big Red have won four of their last five games, bolstered by the breakout performance of walk-on guard Johnathan Gray, a former team manager who has averaged 16.3 points in his last six games after averaging just 5.3 the previous 16 contests.
Gray scored one point in 14 minutes of play against Penn last month, but his recent scoring outburst makes him another legitimate offensive threat the Quakers will have to stymie.
In addition, the Red and Blue cannot assume that Cornell’s shooters, especially seniors Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry, will be off the mark again. Rosen said Cornell is the type of team that likes to get into a shootout, with both teams trading outside jumpers. So if the shots the Big Red duo missed last time — together they shot 3-for-13 — start falling, it will be a different ballgame.
Penn sophomore guard Miles Cartwright understands the key to defending Wroblewski and Ferry.
“We just gotta be there on the catch … I think we did that pretty well [last time].”
A new face who will now be more familiar to the Quakers is Cornell’s Shonn Miller. The explosive 6-foot-7 freshman got loose for 19 points and 10 rebounds in the last meeting, and Penn’s big men will need to do a better job keeping a body on the active Miller.
The game against Columbia (14-10, 3-5) on Saturday night also promises to write a different script from last time, a nail-bitingly close 66-64 victory for the Quakers.
The one constant, however, will be Penn’s difficult task of slowing down Lions point guard Brian Barbour. The junior made himself all too familiar with the Quakers’ defense four weeks ago, when he was able to knife his way through the lane on several possessions and finish at the rim.
His 25-point, six-assist performance may have surprised some — Rosen praised Barbour after the game for being much-improved — but Penn now knows first-hand the challenge that awaits.
“I think [Barbour is] at his best when he’s playing downhill,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “He’s tough to keep out of the paint.”
Cartwright had a similar assessment and an important takeaway.
“I think we just need to keep him in front … that’s just a function of effort,” he said. “I thought when he had the ball out of scoring areas, we were pressuring him too much and he was able to drive, which is hard for us to recover to.”
Ultimately, Penn’s two impressive road wins over its New York foes earlier in the season prove that the Quakers are definitely capable of sweeping the homestand and setting up another all-important showdown at Harvard next week.
But for the Red and Blue to overlook a now-surging Cornell squad and a Columbia squad that was one desperation three-pointer away from winning five weeks ago?