The stage is now set for a showdown in Philadelphia, at one of the most storied arenas in college basketball. On Friday, Harvard and Penn will battle with first place in the Ivy League on the line, set up in part by Penn bouncing back last Saturday night with a convincing 65-48 win at Brown.
Harvard will enter the weekend alone at the top with a 6-0 mark. Yale will be right behind at 5-1, while Penn is now 4-1. Princeton, thought to be the top contender behind Harvard before the season, is now 2-3 after losing at Yale on Saturday night and needs help. While one can expect the Palestra to be a great place to be on Friday night, the Quakers aren’t looking at it as anything more than the next game on the schedule.
“That represents our sixth game in the Ivy League this year,” said senior Rob Belcore, who led the Quakers with 17 points and 10 rebounds, tying career high totals in both categories.
Belcore is the stalwart up front on a team where there aren’t big concerns on the perimeter. Long a valuable role player who has never been a stat stuffer, Belcore had perhaps his best career game in going 7-10 from the field on Saturday.
“We know what we’re getting from him every night – his hard work and effort,” said forward Henry Brooks, who added 10 points. “Tonight, it prevailed on the stat sheet.”
The Quakers didn’t get a big scoring night from their perimeter trio on the stat sheet, but that’s an anomaly and this is a solid group that will lead the way. Zack Rosen is one of the best players in the league and is capping off a fine career this time around. He had five assists with no turnovers on the night, facilitating the success of players like Belcore and Brooks. Tyler Bernardini, a solid scorer on the wing, and Miles Cartwright both had quiet nights in scoring but did well in other categories.
Penn suffered a tough loss last Friday at Yale, which snapped a four-game winning streak. The Quakers had not been able to get into a good stretch of winning games prior to that, as they had a single two-game winning streak as their best stretch before winning four in a row. They have only had a single two-game and a single three-game losing streak, so it’s not as though they’ve lost games left and right. But clearly, this team has spent a lot of the season not sustaining a level of play on the bottom line.
“I think the leadership of our coaches is really preparing us in the proper way,” said Belcore. “We just have to put yesterday behind us and feel that when we don’t do what we’re taught and we don’t do what we’re told, we can lose any game to anybody on our schedule the rest of the way.”
On Saturday night, Penn took control of the game in the first half, then put away an under-manned Brown team in the second half. Brown made an early run and slowly whittled the lead into single digits by the second media timeout, but clearly ran out of gas as the Quakers stepped on the accelerator to finish the job.
That helped set the stage for Friday night. It will be the biggest game in the Ivy League thus far, although it will be far from settled after the game. It is, however, one game that can help shape the rest of the season no matter the result. Penn helped set it up by bouncing back on Saturday night and will enter playing about as well as they have all season.