The Penn basketball players walked slowly to their bus after escaping a major upset and moved even more slowly the next day when their dream of an unbeaten Ivy League season ended.
The Quakers had just completed their most grueling week of Ivy League basketball, and the almost 800-mile round trip to Dartmouth and Harvard showed both the good and bad that a weekend like this can create.
The good came when the Quakers averted an upset loss by defeating Dartmouth, 64-61, Friday in Hanover, N.H. Dartmouth is just 1-7 in Ivy League play.
The next afternoon, the Quakers lost their first Ivy League game of the year, 76-67, to a host Harvard team that was without second-leading scorer Bryce Aiken, who is out with a knee injury.
As it stands, Penn and Harvard share the Ivy lead with 7-1 records and six games left. They hold a three-game lead over the next two teams, Brown and Yale.
A look back at a challenging weekend in New England and ahead to a tough trip to New York for Penn’s basketball team pic.twitter.com/B7LLiOyfiX
— Marc Narducci (@sjnard) February 13, 2018
So what did Penn learn over the weekend, which came after Tuesday’s 82-65 win at Princeton?
“It makes us hungry,” senior point guard Darnell Foreman said.
The Quakers also found out that Harvard is a formidable challenger, with the physical and mental makeup to match any Ivy League team.
“We are a tough team, gritty team, Harvard is the same way. They hit some more shots,” Penn forward Max Rothschild said.
The loss to Harvard also showed that Penn needs to improve on its interior defense.
“Harvard is one of the best teams in the league, and getting them on the road is always tough,” said 6-foot-8 AJ Brodeur, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds against Dartmouth, 14 and 7 against Harvard.
And facing Harvard in the Palestra on Feb. 24 won’t be any easier.
Even though Penn opened 7-0 in the Ivy League, the Quakers aren’t a powerhouse team that can steamroll by anybody. Of those seven wins, six came by nine points or fewer.
“There is not a lot of difference in the teams in the league,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “I thought Dartmouth was one of the best teams in our league, and they started out 0-7.”
Dartmouth ended that drought the night after the Penn game by beating Princeton, 72-56. That means every Ivy team has at least one win.
Penn began last year 0-6 in Ivy League play and ended up earning one of four playoff berths in the inaugural postseason tournament. With six games left, Donahue understands there are no automatic W’s on the schedule.
At least the Quakers are done with their most grueling weekend.
“Next weekend is no walk in the park,” Donahue said. No, that consists of Friday at Columbia and Saturday at Cornell. Those are two teams Penn beat at home by an average of seven points.
The back-to-back Ivy games truly test the will of teams. After Friday’s win, Penn had to get on a bus for two hours and arrived in the Boston area at midnight, with little time to get ready for the 4 p.m. game at Harvard. Throw in the Princeton encounter, and it was three games in five days all on the road.
“I enjoy the challenge,” Donahue said. “Everybody is trying to make this tournament, and you have to be ready to compete every night.”