It was poetic, almost, the transfer of dominance.
After senior guard Matt Howard lit things up in the first half, scoring 12 of Penn’s first 15 points, freshman forward AJ Brodeur took over in the second period, tallying 16 of his 22 after intermission. When it was all said and done, the Red and Blue (3-4) emerged with a 81-52 blowout victory, their first win over Lafayette in five seasons.
Guard Jackson Donahue, relegated to sixth-man duty in recent games, chipped in further with his best performance of the season, scoring 15 points in just 19 minutes. The sophomore’s scoring was fueled by his signature shooting, as he went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, making him the lone Quaker to knock down multiple three-pointers.
“Jackson’s been up-and-down this season,” coach Steve Donahue acknowledged. “Tonight you saw him getting back that swagger and being confident.”
Howard dominated the game’s opening minutes. After making a three pointer and several midrange jumpers, the captain provided perhaps the most exciting play of the night, a thundering transition dunk to make the score 15-6. Though he would only score two more points in the game following that initial burst, the tone had been set.
“Matt’s been really good all season long. His confidence is really high right now,” Donahue said. “He’s been through some up-and-downs for three years, and now he feels like he can be the best player on the court.”
But the real star of the game was Brodeur. Just seven games into his college career, he is already the top scorer and rebounder on the team. His stellar play in the early second half helped the Quakers to a 16-0 run, one that turned the game officially into a blowout — the Quakers’ 29-point margin of victory being their largest of the season.
But what impressed Donahue the most about his rookie’s performance was his defensive contributions — which helped limit the Leopards (3-5) to just 52 points, including just four from their leading scorer, junior forward Matt Klinewski.
“At the defensive end is where he makes us way better than we were last year,” the second-year coach noted. “He can guard their point guard. To have a kid that big, that athletic, and able to do that — it makes you great.”
The game featured a matchup against an old friend — Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon. After starring for Villanova in the late 1960s, his career intersected with the Penn bosses’ at many points, notably as an assistant alongside Donahue on the Quaker bench in the early 90s.
“I grew up as a kid watching ‘Franny O’ at Villanova, marvelling at his skill as a basketball player,” Donahue said of his fellow longtime member of the Philadelphia basketball brotherhood. “I was honored when he brought me on [to be his assistant at Monsignor Bonner High School] and again when he talked [then-Penn head coach] Fran Dunphy into hiring me.”
“It’s what makes Philly basketball so great in so many ways.”
Next up on Saturday, the Red and Blue will play host to George Mason. The Patriots (7-3) are coming off a 85-66 takedown of Penn State in State College Wednesday night, their first win over a Big 10 team since 2009.
The 2006 Final Four Cinderellas are led by senior guard Marquise Moore, who is averaging team highs of 18.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, impressive given his 6’2” stature.
However, if the Quakers can replicate Wednesday’s balanced offensive output going forward and continue their dominant Brodeur-led defense, there’s no reason that encore performances cannot become the norm.
And as Howard finishes up his career come this spring, he can rest assured that another versatile player capable of taking over games will carry the torch.
Correction: This article has been changed to properly reflect George Mason's team nickname.