It’s almost like déjà vu.
Penn is set to square off against Yale on Saturday at Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament. It’s the same matchup and the same venue Penn was preparing for two years ago until the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the tournament and the entire next season.
“Now that it’s before us, we have that extra sense of hunger, and that extra sense of gratitude that we are getting to play,” sophomore guard Jordan Dingle said. “And we know that we’re not going to take this for granted.”
This weekend will be the first experience with Ivy Madness for all but two players on Penn’s roster. Only senior guards Bryce Washington and Alex Imegwu have been a part of the tournament before, seeing limited minutes as freshmen in Penn’s loss to Harvard in 2019.
Saturday’s game will be a matchup between the Ivy League’s top two scorers — Dingle (20.6 points per game), and Yale guard Azar Swain (18.9). Both were unanimous first-team All-Ivy selections, which were announced on Tuesday.
The Quakers (12-15, 9-5 Ivy) split the regular-season series with the Bulldogs (17-11, 11-3), with a 76-68 win on Jan. 22 and an 81-72 loss on Feb. 18.
“Yale is known for their physicality and their rebounding, and I think they did that,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “In the second game in particular, I thought they were more physical than us. I thought they got to the rim. And we’re gonna have to do a better job of keeping them out of the paint and making them shoot contested shots.”
In their Feb. 18 game, the Quakers faltered late, letting their lead slip away with less than three minutes left. The Bulldogs also held Dingle to just 10 points. He scored 31 to help the Quakers past Yale in January.
“[Yale is] a really good team that we can’t afford to sleep on,” Dingle said. “Just like the other teams that are playing this weekend, you know, it’s a game where one or two mistakes might end up costing us, so we need to be really smart in our approach, and really poised.”
Penn is coming off a 93-70 loss to top-seeded Princeton on Saturday. Penn was missing two familiar faces in the loss to the Tigers, with Donahue and freshman guard George Smith, both in COVID-19 protocols.
Associate head coach Nat Graham took over the head coaching duties against Princeton. Donahue is expected to return for Saturday’s game.
Hopeful to be making his return as well is senior guard Jelani Williams, who has not played — other than a ceremonial start on Penn’s Senior Day against Princeton — since suffering a finger injury on Feb. 12 against Harvard. Williams had been the only Quaker to start all of Penn’s first 24 games.
The Quakers have missed his presence on the backcourt. Penn has lost three of its four games without him, and the lone victory came by a point against seventh-place Brown.
“If you look at our team over the last four games that [Willams has] missed, we were basically right there as the best defensive team in league play, and we dramatically have fallen off,” Donahue said. “He guards many people. He’s our connector. He just does so many little things that go unnoticed, and honestly maybe I didn’t appreciate it until he was gone.”
If Williams plays, it will be his first experience at Ivy Madness after three consecutive ACL tears and a canceled season sidelined him for the last four years.
“I want him to play in this tournament bad. I want him to experience it, and I want him to help us get to the NCAA Tournament,” Donahue said.
The winner of the Penn-Yale game will move on to the final at noon Sunday to face the winner of the Princeton-Cornell matchup with a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.