The Quakers have only two games standing between them and an Ivy Madness appearance.
Blocking their path are Cornell (6-19, 3-9 Ivy) and Columbia (6-22, 1-11), which Penn (14-11, 6-6) will take on this Friday and Saturday, respectively. They are the two worst teams in the Ivy League, at least by record. Though neither team poses a huge threat on paper, they won’t be taken lightly.
“All I know is we have to play Cornell and beat Cornell,” coach Steve Donahue said. “We had a really good game up there [in Ithaca, N.Y.] I assume they’ll have [Jimmy] Boeheim back. That’s an All-Ivy type of player, so that’s our focus.”
Senior guard Ryan Betley, who is battling back from an injury, always looks forward to playing Cornell. Their third leading scorer, Josh Warren, was a high school teammate of Betley’s.
“He always has a lot of people for him, cheering him on. To play against him one last time in our college career is going to be a lot of fun. It’s always a good time to see him,” Betley said. “I’ll say something to him when he’s at the free-throw line. It’s all love, though.”
Betley was limited to just 12 minutes in Penn's game against Brown, but his minutes will likely creep up this weekend.
Following a road trip that featured 78 minutes of impressive Penn basketball, the Quakers are staying home at the Palestra for their final two regular season games.
When they played Yale this past weekend, the Red and Blue led 73-63 with less than two minutes to go. Seniors AJ Brodeur and Devon Goodman each had over 20 points, and the Quakers looked to be well on their way to a season sweep over the Ivy League’s best team. Instead, they turned the ball over seven times and allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 13-0 run to end the game.
The Red and Blue regained their mojo against Brown in what was a must-win game to avoid elimination from postseason contention. They won, and the stakes of the game seemed to raise the level of play from Penn.
“If we recapture that energy and that level of competitiveness we had on Saturday against Brown, I think that’ll put us in a great position to make the tournament,” Brodeur said.
These final home games have some sentimental value for the seniors, too. Regardless of the outcome of these last two games, they’ll be the last two games the seniors play in the Palestra. Brodeur is less than 40 points away from becoming Penn’s all-time record holder in points. To accomplish that at home is difficult, but it is certainly attainable.
“It’s such a historic program. Not just in NCAA basketball, but in all of college sports. Penn has so much history,” Brodeur said. “If things go that way this weekend, that’d be awesome. If not, hopefully I’ll have a couple more games to do it elsewhere.”
Donahue was quick to note, however, that Brodeur’s influence on the floor extends far beyond scoring points.
“More importantly [are] all the things he accomplished to help us turn this program around,” Donahue said. “Sometimes you think of an all-time leading scorer and think, ‘He’s just a scorer.’ As I said, his ability to guard, I think he’s the best defensive player in the League. I think he’s the best playmaker. All those things are more important.”
The Quakers will hope to end their regular season with two wins, if not to move them one step closer to the tournament, then to honor their seniors.