Penn readies for critical games with Columbia & Cornell this weekend

Matt Leon
February 21, 2019 - 4:40 pm
Penn junior forward A.J. Brodeur leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and blocks this season.

Courtesy of Penn Athletics

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The University of Pennsylvania basketball team welcomes the Columbia University Lions and the Big Red of Cornell University to the Palestra this weekend for two big games as the Quakers try to move up the Ivy League standings.

Penn is 15-9 overall this season but just 3-5 in Ivy League play, which is good for a tie for fifth place. The Quakers are two games out of fourth and of course, only the top four teams qualify for the Ivy League Tournament.

Last weekend, the Quakers split a pair of hard-fought, overtime games at the Palestra. On Friday night, they held off Dartmouth 82-79 but then on Saturday, they fell to Harvard 75-68. Penn had a six-point lead with just over a minute remaining in regulation against the Crimson, but two Bryce Aiken threes sent the game to overtime and the Crimson took control from there.

"I thought we played well for the most part," coach Steve Donahue said of last weekend. "We didn't make shots at a consistent rate the second night, where I thought if we did we would've closed out the weekend with a sweep. Thought the ball movement was good, execution was pretty good. I thought we really guarded them well. Had a chance to finish them off, we didn't close out well, probably had two or three possessions we'd like to have back late in the game and that's probably what won it for Harvard."

Penn junior forward A.J. Brodeur was phenomenal last weekend. He scored 59 points in the two games, including a career high 36 in the Dartmouth win. The 59 points represent the most for a Penn player in an Ivy weekend since Keven McDonald scored 61 during the 1977-78 season.

"I think what he does is he knows how to complete every game," Donahue said of Brodeur's success, "whether teams are doubling him or not doubling him. His ability to make us a good offensive team when he's on offense to me is the key because he doesn't necessarily need to score that much. But what both teams did is they allowed him to go one-on-one and he really took advantage of it. He's obviously more than just a scorer: he's our best rebounder, he's probably our best passer, he's our best shot blocker. He's had a remarkable season for sure."

Brodeur leads Penn in scoring (17.0 ppg), rebounding (8.2 a game), assists (87) and blocks (32).

Up first for the Quakers this weekend will be Columbia on Friday night. The Lions are 6-16 on the season and just 1-7 in the Ivy League, but six of their eight Ivy games have been decided by six points or fewer. That includes when these two teams met up in New York City on February 2nd, a 72-70 Penn victory. The Lions are unique in college basketball these days in that offensively, they often lean on the mid-range game for success.

"They have two guards in (senior Quinton) Adlesh and (sophomore Gabe) Stefanini that really are aggressive attacking the lane, yet they pull up and they shoot it at a pretty good high rate," Donahue said. "They are probably two of the best shooters of that shot in the country. So you've got to adjust a little bit, you can't allow them to get those open looks."

Adlesh leads Columbia in scoring at 14.2 ppg with Stefanini right behind him at 13.6 points per game. Stefanini was outstanding in the first match-up with Penn, pouring in 27 points. 

Penn and Cornell will battle on Saturday night. The Big Red will visit Princeton on Friday night before heading to the Palestra on Saturday. Cornell comes into the weekend 13-11 overall and tied for third in the Ivy with a 5-3 league mark.

Penn and Columbia get underway at 8:00 pm on Friday. Penn and Cornell will tip at 7:00 pm on Saturday. 

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Mattleon1060