Sometimes it takes just one player to spark an entire team.
That was certainly the case this weekend for sophomore forward AJ Brodeur and Penn men’s basketball. Brodeur filled up the statsheet for the Quakers (12-5, 3-0 Ivy) in Friday’s 69-61 victory against Cornell, only to come back the next night with an even better performance.
In the Saturday night matchup versus Columbia, Brodeur led the team to a 77-71 victory with 30 points and eight rebounds in an impressive display of all-around talent. In the first half alone, he dropped 22 points and grabbed six rebounds.
One key to this scoring onslaught was Brodeur’s ability to shoot the three ball, as the big man shot 6 for 12 from beyond the arc.
“When I see the other team sitting back almost in the [restricted area], pretty much hoping that I’m going to miss, the thing going through my head is more than just shooting the shot to make three points; I was trying to prove something,” Brodeur said. “I know I’m confident in my shot; I know I’ve earned the right to shoot it, and I’ve earned the right to make it.”
Because Brodeur caught fire from the outside in the first half, Columbia’s (3-12, 0-2) defense was forced to come out and guard him, which opened the floor for the rest of the Penn offense. The Quakers took the ball to the basket a lot in the second half, making several strong finishes at the rim.
Along with Brodeur, the Red and Blue received a great offensive contribution from sophomore guard Ryan Betley, who scored 20 points and added six rebounds. This performance follows a game in which Betley totaled 13 points, five rebounds, and four steals against Cornell (6-9, 0-2).
Senior guard Darnell Foreman, as always, found his teammates for easy points and drove the ball hard to the basket to get points for himself. In all, Foreman ended Saturday’s game with seven points, three rebounds, and six assists.
While the offense put points on the board against the pair of New York Ivy teams, the Quakers’ solid team defense may have been even more impressive than the offense. Having to go up against star guards Matt Morgan from Cornell and Mike Smith from Columbia is no easy task, and the Quakers did a good job of neutralizing these two explosive scorers.
Morgan, who averages 24.1 points per game, was limited to just 13 points on 4 of 16 shooting. Smith, for his part, scored the ball well (27 points) but was not very efficient in the process.
“[Smith] got 27 points on 23 shots, he had no assists, and we didn’t really put him at the foul line,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “They had three assists as a team, so I thought our defense was really solid until the very end, when they played really loose and hurt us.”
The Quakers entered the locker room after the first half with a 33-28 lead and came out of the gates firing in the second half, increasing their lead to 10 early on. The Lions came roaring back, however, and cut the lead to three with about 12 minutes to play in the game.
From there, Penn halted Columbia’s 9-0 run and remained ahead by a couple scores for the rest of the game, never trailing in the second half. The Quakers let Columbia hang around longer than they would have liked but ultimately put away the Lions with clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
“We didn’t handle the pressure [at the end] well. We gotta work on [inbounding] because we’re gonna be in that position more,” Donahue said. “But to go to the line and make 10 for 10 [in the last couple of minutes], for a team that hasn’t shot well from the free-throw line this year, is a good sign.”
The Red and Blue will look to improve their ball control in crunch time, as this is still a team that is learning how to win close games.
“We want to play relaxed and focused, competing on every possession,” Donahue said. “That’s part of what good teams learn how to do. And we’re growing. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we gotta continue to grow.”
Penn will have the opportunity to keep building on this promising start to the season with a matchup against Big 5 opponent Temple next Saturday at the Palestra.