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Freshman Jackson Donahue continued to find his feet in the Ivy League this weekend, with a team-high 25 points in the 92-84 win over Cornell proving his ever-increasing worth as a starter. 

Credit: Nick Buchta , Ananya Chandra

ITHACA, N.Y. — Steve Donahue went back to Newman Arena on Saturday and walked away with another win — this time for a different team.

The first-year Penn basketball coach returned to his old stomping grounds at Cornell as the Quakers handed the Big Red a 92-84 defeat just a day after falling at Columbia, 63-53.

The Red and Blue (9-12, 3-4 Ivy) saw two different parts of the Ivy League on the road this weekend, starting with the third-place Lions (17-8, 6-2) at Levien Arena on Friday.

Despite Columbia’s early success in conference play, Penn’s defense was stifling, holding the Lions to just 28 first-half points. But the Quakers were also forced to deal with scoring troubles of their own, sinking just nine shots in the first half. Before the break, Penn trailed 28-24.

A 7-0 run from Columbia out of the break brought the deficit to 35-24, and a young Penn squad responded as freshmen Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe each contributed six points to a 16-6 run that got the visitors to within one with just over 10 minutes to play.

That was as close as they would get.

The Lions shut down the Quakers’ offense over the next three minutes, and senior guard Maodo Lo took control in a game he would finish with 21 points for Columbia.

Junior Matt Howard’s 14 points led the way for Penn. He acknowledged after the game, though, that it was the team’s shooting struggles that cemented the night’s outcome.

“They bottled us up on offense, we weren’t making any shots at that point,” Howard said. “They started hitting their shots, and that’s where it went wrong.”

“I feel like we missed a lot of easy shots. I missed all of my threes and it just wasn’t our night I guess.”

But when the Quakers returned to the court in Ithaca on Saturday, it turned out that scoring would be the least of their worries.

In Donahue’s homecoming at Cornell (9-13, 2-6), Jackson Donahue’s 25 points paced the Red and Blue as part of a 92-point performance on the night for the visitors.

But it was senior forward Darien Nelson-Henry with one of the most surprising performances for Penn. For the second straight night, the 6-foot-10 big man recorded six assists, adding some ball movement to his 18 points and 16 rebounds.

“Both of the ways the teams played their ball screens [...] that was a chance to get a lot of pocket looks.” Nelson-Henry said.

“They were playing it two ways where it allows me to come to the ball and make the decisions that [...] led to some open shots.”

Both sides were fueled by high-octane performances, and the Big Red’s full-court press proved frustrating at times for the Quakers’ young core.

It was this very intensity, however, that got Cornell in foul trouble early in both halves. Over the course of the night, the Red and Blue got to the foul line 35 times.

Although Penn sunk 29 of their attempts from the charity stripe, a combined 49 points from Cornell guards Matt Morgan and Robert Hatter — the top two scorers in the Ivy League, respectively — kept the contest close.

After a 21-11 run to open play for the Quakers, the Big Red tied it up at 25 before Penn took a 36-35 lead into the break.

The Red and Blue won the game with strong outside shooting and free throws. They reversed a 2-for-15 performance beyond the arc in the first half by going 5-for-9 in the second thanks to Donahue’s strong showing in the game’s final 20 minutes, which the squad’s coach commended after the win.

“He’s someone that I can really be honest with. He’s someone I can go to and I did that in the first half. We were [struggling] from three and he had open looks and he’s jack-knifing them and pulling back,” Donahue said.

“A good shooter stays there and is consistent every time and you need to be that. He came out in the second half and did that.”

The former Cornell coach dismissed the importance of his return to his players, but the Penn squad that has now won three of its last four was under no delusions about what this weekend meant.

“[Donahue] didn’t make [the importance] apparent at all. He didn’t want to bring that unnecessary pressure onto us for this game,” Nelson-Henry said. “But I think we all knew it and we wanted to come in here and prove something to him and Penn basketball and Cornell, for that matter.”

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