By SCOTT CHIUSANO
Almost a year ago, sophomore Galal Cancer’s acrobatic layup in the paint with ten seconds remaining in the game allowed the Red to escape from Penn’s Palestra arena with a 71-69 victory. On Friday, the Red will be gearing up for a road battle with the Quakers again, this time without Cancer and without an Ivy League win to its name.
Penn comes into the game with struggles that certainly rival the Red’s. At 4-13 overall and 1-2 in the Ivy League, the Quakers are coming off a 30-point loss to league-leading Harvard. However, three of Penn’s four wins have come on their home court.
Led by guard Tony Hicks — who is averaging over 14 points per game — the Quakers will throw a balanced offense at the Red, as three other players are averaging double figures. Forward Fran Dougherty and center Darien Nelson-Henry are both averaging over 11 points and close to seven rebounds. The Red’s leading rebounder — Dwight Tarwater — is averaging just under six a game, and no one else on the roster is averaging more than five.
While holding its own on the boards will be an area of focus going into the matchup, Cressler said that his team’s defensive intensity will dictate the course of the game.
“We will do what we always do, which is pressure the ball and fly around to try and speed them up and take them out of their stuff,” he said.
After taking on Penn at the Palestra, the Red will be heading to another tough environment in Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium. The Tigers are 12-5 overall, but are the only other team in the Ancient Eight without a conference win, coming off two tough losses to Harvard and Dartmouth.
However, the Tigers are arguably even more comfortable on familiar floorboards than Penn, as they come into the weekend with an unblemished 6-0 record at home.
Princeton took a significant offensive hit this season with the loss of leading scorer and Ivy League Player of the year Ian Hummer to graduation. In two victories over the Red last season, Hummer combined for 45 points and 16 rebounds. Guard TJ Bray has done all he can to fill that gap this year, averaging 17.8 points per game, good for second in the Ivy League.
The Red will need some offense of its own to combat players like Hicks and Bray throughout the weekend. Senior guard Jake Matthews’ career-high 17-point night against Brown last week was a promising performance off the bench for a team that is last in the league in scoring.
Junior guard Devin Cherry’s first career double-double was another sign of good things to come for the Red’s offense. Cherry had 13 points and 12 rebounds on five-of-11 shooting.
The two games against Penn and Princeton mark the last of a four-game road trip that precedes an important four-game homestand for the Red, which includes a bout with the defending Ivy League champion Harvard.
According to Cressler, the key this weekend will be on the defensive end, as both Penn and Princeton have proven their abilities to score.
“We know we have been playing hard, the effort is there, but we need to focus on staying locked in on defense for the whole game, every possession,” he said. “If we reduce the amount of defensive breakdowns we have, we will be alright.”