Three Things to Watch: Men's Basketball Closes Season Against Penn

Published by David Freed on March 06, 2016 at 1:55PM

After securing its best win of the season, a 73-71 victory over rival Princeton, the Harvard men’s basketball team (13-16, 5-8 Ivy League) wraps up its regular season by hosting the Penn Quakers (11-15, 5-7) Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion. Staff writer David Freed has three things to watch as Harvard looks to sweep an Ivy League weekend for the first time this year.

1. Which Team Shows Up — If Harvard had played all year the way it played Friday night, it would be in the title conversation. From the opening tip, the Crimson played with aggression. Captain Evan Cummins had eight early points by aggressively going at the rim, something that has been missing all year. Seniors Patrick Steeves and Agunwa Okolie repeatedly took smaller Tigers defenders off the dribble and helped Harvard ring up a 40-28 advantage in points scored in the paint.

After the performance of the season, the question is how Harvard will respond. Historically, the answer is well: the Crimson has won the last two Saturdays after dispiriting losses on the front half of the back-to-back. A day after beating Brigham Young, its then-biggest victory of the year, Harvard trounced Auburn in the Diamond Head Classic. Against Penn, it will draw on those memories to try and come out with energy on Senior Night.

2. Battle of the Freshmen — Last time the two teams played, Penn’s freshman backcourt of Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue got the better of Harvard’s rookie tandem of Tommy McCarthy and Corey Johnson. While Johnson drilled a trifecta of threes early in the game, he missed all seven shots he took in the second half—including five triples. McCarthy faired worse, getting his shot twice blocked by Silpe and letting frustration boil over, committing a flagrant foul on the opposing rookie.

The Penn backcourt has taken divergent paths since the last outcome, however. Silpe has struggled, posting nine or more points just twice in seven outings. Against Columbia at home a week ago, he didn’t attempt a shot in 19 minutes. Donahue, by contrast, has flourished, draining three or more triples in six of seven. Yet it will be Silpe’s defense against an improved McCarthy that will be key if Penn wants to walk away victors.

3. Containment — Without leading scorer and rebounder Zena Edosomwan, Harvard could not contain Penn’s forwards in the last outing. Three different Quakers finished the game with double-doubles, with senior Darien Nelson-Henry pacing the team with 18 points and 12 rebounds. The glass will be a focus for Harvard, not a great rebounding team, in the rematch. Given Edosomwan’s recent struggles with foul trouble, perhaps the biggest key to the game is simply whether he can stay on the floor.

—Staff Writer David Freed can be reached at