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Riding an eight-game win streak, including six in a row on the road, the Crimson (13-4, 2-0 Ivy) will visit the Quakers (7-8, 0-2 Ivy) on Friday and the Tigers (8-7, 2-0) on Saturday as it continues its five-game road trip and looks to stay undefeated in conference play.
Despite having momentum on its side, coming away with two road victories will still be a formidable task. Harvard will have to contend with the unexpected adversity of Ivy League play while continuing to have a balanced scoring attack and a stalwart defense.
“In conference play, it’s always difficult and more competitive,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “It has a way of having a different gear and energy about it. You know you're so familiar with one another and the games are always close and hard-fought.”
In its most recent games, the Crimson had difficulty closing out its opponents. In both of its games against Ancient Eight rival Dartmouth, the team almost blew a double-digit lead in the second half. Playing consistently for a full forty minutes will be crucial towards maintaining leads in hostile environments like the Palestra and Jadwin Gym.
“We’re just trying to build towards a complete 40,” senior guard Christian Juzang said. “I think that’s kind of what the Ivy League is all about, especially as we’re getting closer to the tournament. I think we’ve had some trouble closing games recently, but that last final stretch of four minutes—it’s something we’re definitely working on. We’re building off our last game and just hoping to play better basketball.”
Juzang and the other members of the team have had to elevate their play in the absence of senior guard Bryce Aiken and senior forward Seth Towns. Aiken looks to be dealing with an injured ankle, so Juzang will once again have to step up and be the team’s lead guard during its road trip this weekend.
“Christian has been as valuable as any kid we've had a program for the last two years,” Amaker said. “You know he's been able to step in at various moments; we just love what he’s done. His spirit has always been intact.”
While it will be important for the Crimson’s playmakers to continue its balanced scoring attack, defeating Penn will require a strong defensive presence on the inside and the perimeter. The Quakers have a slew of versatile bigs led by senior forward AJ Brodeur who has averaged 17.2 points and 9.1 rebounds a game for the season. First-year guard Jordan Dingle also provides Penn with an outside scoring presence with 14.7 points a game.
“With [the strength of] Brodeur in the middle of the paint and their center as their post guy, they’re just as good as anybody in our league up front, and they have talent on the perimeter as well,” Amaker said. “The quickness they have with that kid Dingle, you know as a freshman has been key to their team.”
Princeton also poses its own challenges for Harvard, coming into its game against the Crimson with a hot streak of its own, having won its last four contests by an average of 18.5 points. Led by the combined 28.5 points of sophomore guard Jaelin Llewellyn and senior center Richmond Aririguzoh, the Tigers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the Ivy League, scoring on 46% of their baskets, and look to stay undefeated in the Ancient Eight by defending their home court.
To maintain its win streak, and assert itself as a conference threat, the Crimson will have to rely on the experience of its seasoned veterans. The senior leadership on this team has played a pivotal role in turning the team’s fortunes around following a 5-4 start to the season.
“We’re all really aligned this year,” senior forward Justin Bassey says. “We all have one goal; we’re all willing to sacrifice. Whether it’s minutes, playing time, or time off the court. Everyone’s all in. Our senior leadership has been phenomenal this year starting with Henry and Seth, but all of our guys have taken a step up, and that’s manifested itself in our most recent win streak. We’ve been playing some of our best basketball in four years.”
The seniors on this team have been trying to win the league and make it to the NCAA tournament for four years. They hope to continue their journey with this road and take one more step to the glory they’ve been waiting for.
— Staff writer Mahtab Shihab can be reached at email@example.com.
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