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Penn basketball coach Steve Donahue stood at the helm of Cornell from 2000-2010 before departing for Boston College. On Saturday, he returns to Ithaca for the first time.

Credit: Katie Zhao , Katie Zhao, Katie Zhao

There’s nothing quite like catching up with old friends.

This weekend, Penn basketball coach Steve Donahue will face off against Cornell — a team he coached for a decade — part of a back-to-back road set also featuring a trip to Columbia, which will be the Quakers’ third Ivy weekend of the season.

“[Cornell] is a place that obviously means a lot to me and my family, but we’ll have to put that part aside,” the first-year Penn coach said. “We just have to focus in on our group and continue to play good basketball.”

Donahue was the coach of the Big Red (9-11, 2-4 Ivy) from 2000 to 2010, a stint that was among the most successful coaching tenures in recent Ivy League history. During his time in Ithaca, Donahue led Cornell from a 3-11 Ivy record in his first year to Ivy titles in each of his final three campaigns, including a Sweet 16 bid during the 2010 NCAA Tournament. On the heels of that success, Donahue left for Boston College’s head coaching gig after that season.

“We had incredible student-athletes that were committed to a goal and were very selfless,” Donahue said, reminiscing about his Ivy championship squads. “And that’s what I’m here [at Penn] for. To build a champion and win Ivy League titles.”

Donahue got a pleasant boost on his road to a rebuild in University City when the Red and Blue (8-11, 2-3) picked up a pair of victories — their first two of the conference season — at the Palestra last weekend. The Quakers rallied behind 19 points from senior forward Darien Nelson-Henry to knock off Dartmouth on Friday before dispatching defending Ivy champion Harvard, 67-57, on Saturday.

“Two weekends ago I felt like I was hurting the team more than I was helping them,” Nelson-Henry said of an injury sustained Jan. 29 at Yale. “I felt way better last weekend, and I think it showed in my performance.”

The Quakers will need another pair of big games from their veteran big man if they are to succeed this weekend. Columbia (16-7, 5-1) will pose a particular challenge, as they feature guards Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg, two of the most potent long-range threats in the Ivy League.

Rosenberg provided the most dramatic moment of the Ivy League season so far, knocking down a buzzer-beating jumper to give the Lions a 55-54 victory over Harvard on Jan. 30.

“They’re very talented at all positions — good skills, good size,” Donahue said of his Friday night opponent. “We’ve got to really compete and contend with a lot of different aspects of their offense.”

And Cornell, despite its inferior record, boasts the top two scorers in the league. Junior forward Robert Hatter leads the conference with 18.7 points per game while freshman sensation Matt Morgan sits close behind with 18.6 per contest. Morgan — a guard out of Concord, N.C. — has been even more impressive in Ivy Play, averaging 26.5 points over six Ivy games.

Penn freshman Jake Silpe will likely be tasked with guarding Morgan. Silpe has moved into the Quakers’ starting point guard role as the season has progressed, and while he may not put up Morgan’s gaudy offensive stats, his 5.2 assists per game in Ivy play rank him second in the conference. Silpe’s eight assists in Friday’s win over Dartmouth were the most by any Penn player this season.

But while the on-court matchups will likely be the focus of this weekend’s game, Donahue can’t help but reminisce about his highly successful tenure in upstate New York.

“I just always think back to the people, not the games, not the wins.

“Because I was able to really have some incredible relationships during those 10 years.”

Associate Sports Editor Cole Jacobson contributed reporting.

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