AJ Brodeur

AJ Brodeur scores career-high 36 points in Penn win over Dartmouth

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AJ Brodeur scores career-high 36 points in Penn win over Dartmouth

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AJ Brodeur scored six of his career-high 36 points in overtime and grabbed the last rebound to help Penn beat Dartmouth 82-79 on Friday night.

Dartmouth trailed 80-79 and had possession with 14.9 remaining in the extra period. Chris Knight drove to the basket but his shot rimmed out. Brodeur grabbed the rebound with 0.6 seconds left then added a pair of free throws. Ian Sistare's half-court shot hit the top of the backboard to end it.

Brodeur split a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 70. The Quakers forced a turnover on the next possession, but they didn't get off a shot as time expired.

Brodeur grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Devon Goodman had 12 points for Penn (15-8, 3-4 Ivy League). Antonio Woods added 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Knight had 25 points for the Big Green (11-12, 2-5). Sistare added 16 points. Brendan Barry had seven assists.

Penn plays Harvard at home on Saturday. Dartmouth plays Princeton on the road on Saturday.

Penn proves to be serious players for Ivy — and Big 5

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Penn proves to be serious players for Ivy — and Big 5

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AJ Brodeur has an interesting way of looking at the Penn basketball program.

Even though the Quakers haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since he was in elementary school, the sophomore forward doesn’t consider the last decade of struggles the norm.

Instead, he believes Penn has always been the dominant program that’s captured 13 Big 5 titles and 25 Ivy League championships — but none since 2007.

“It’s more getting back to our roots,” Brodeur said after the Quakers improved to 13-6 with a 67-56 win over St. Joe’s Saturday night (see observations). “Penn is obviously a very successful program in our history. Every program is not gonna be perfect forever. There are ups and downs and hopefully, we’re on the upswing now.”

Thanks in large part to Brodeur, the Quakers are most certainly on the rise. Consider: the 13 victories they’ve amassed to this point would have matched or surpassed their win total for an entire season in all but one campaign since 2006-2007. 

And after handling the Hawks in their final non-conference game of the season, the Quakers enter the bulk of their league slate as a legitimate favorite to return to the top of the Ivy League after 11 years of looking up at the league champ.

“I have a great vision for this program,” said third-year head coach Steve Donahue, “and what I think we can do at Penn.”

Few people know better than Donahue the heights that Penn can reach. He was a Quakers assistant throughout the 1990s when Penn won five Ivy titles and its last NCAA Tournament game (in 1994, over Nebraska). And later, as head coach of Cornell, he showed again what an Ivy team can do on the national stage, taking the Big Red to the 2010 Sweet 16.

Back in those days too, the Quakers were far more competitive in the Big 5, winning three city series titles in the 1990s and enjoying a perfect run through the city in 2001-02. 

And so, avoiding a winless Big 5 season with Saturday’s impressive showing vs. St. Joe’s was both a relief and a timely confidence boost, especially after last Saturday’s loss to Temple at an equally crowded Palestra.

“There are not many places in college basketball you can play a non-league game in front of 9,000 fans,” Donahue said. “This just doesn’t happen.”

The fans were certainly out in full force Saturday night, filling the corners of the old gym with St. Joe’s students and Penn students occupying opposite sides. 

But Hawks fans had little to cheer about in the end as St. Joe’s struggled to hit shots when it mattered, shooting 30.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range for the game.

“We struggled this week on offense,” longtime St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “It’s a struggle. I think for the first time Thursday I could feel the team felt sorry for themselves. We put everything into Wednesday night and couldn’t get their spirit lifted.”

Wednesday night was when the Hawks let the chance of an upset slip away in the final minute at St. Bonaventure, one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10. Returning to Philly and preparing on short rest for Penn — without injured stars, Lamarr Kimble and Charlie Brown — was no easy task.

“Rest was a big part of this game,” Donahue said. “They don’t have great depth and we have depth. And we’re sitting here all week getting ready for this game.”

Penn’s depth and balance were certainly on display Saturday. Even with seven players in street clothes, the Quakers still managed to dress 14 players, with eight different ones scoring.

And it was no surprise Brodeur led the way with 13 points and 11 rebounds, including two offensive boards on one second-half possession that led to a critical three-pointer from fellow sophomore Ryan Betley (10 points).

“Villanova has most of the best players in the city but if there was a pickup game, Brodeur is getting picked,” Martelli said. “And that’s not true of everybody. All of us aren’t getting a guy picked but they would get him picked.”

While Brodeur and Betley give the Quakers a nice offensive tandem, Donahue was most proud of the team’s defense — both on Saturday, as they held the Hawks to 56 points, and throughout the season.

He pointed to a few impressive defensive stats, including the fact Penn has given up the fewest amount of assists in the country. The Quakers are also 21st in three-point field goal defense and 10th in defensive rebounds per game.

“Now we’re trying to get better on offense,” the Penn coach said. “We had open looks but we’re not there yet on that part. We’re trying to figure out the best answer for us on offense.”

One of those answers on offense, he hopes, is junior point guard Jake Silpe, who’s been given important minutes over the last two games after playing only 35 total minutes in the previous 17 contests. Another could be sharpshooter Sam Jones, who hit a three Saturday for his first points in a month.

Whatever the case is, though, it’s become clear Penn finally has the horses to once again be both a serious player in the Ivy League and, of course, the city.

“We’re definitely a different team from last year,” Brodeur said. “You can see how gritty you have to be to pull out Big 5 wins in front of a packed Palestra. They’re our most attended games we have all season, and we’re poised on the big stage and performing well.”

No. 4 Villanova-Penn observations: Wildcats put on show at the old 'Cat House'

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No. 4 Villanova-Penn observations: Wildcats put on show at the old 'Cat House'

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VILLANOVA, Pa. — The venue was different but the result the same.

In the first Big 5 game ever played at Jake Nevin Field House, No. 4 Villanova cruised to a 90-62 victory over visiting Penn (5-4) on Wednesday. 

With the win, the Wildcats (7-0) upped their record Big 5 winning streak to 19 games heading into another city matchup at Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. 

• It was a unique atmosphere at Jake Nevin Field House, which hadn’t hosted a Villanova men’s game since 1986, a month before the Pavilion opened next door. But with the 2,200-seat gym best known as the “Cat House” filled with just about all Villanova students, it got loud. Very loud (see story).

• The biggest cheers in the building, which opened in 1931, came early when Omari Spellman had a steal and coasted in for a thunderous one-handed dunk, moments after burying a three-pointer. The Villanova redshirt freshman was up for the game, scoring 10 points before the first media timeout.

• The rims may not be what they’re used to but the Wildcats could barely miss, shooting 50 percent from three-point range and 56.9 percent from the field. One of those threes came from freshman Jermaine Samuels — just his second of the season.

• ’Nova captain Jalen Brunson took over in the second half, as he’s prone to do. He finished with a game-high 17 points and missed only one shot. And showing his leadership, he charged way off the bench to cheer a teammate drawing a charge in the final two minutes.

• Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Spellman also had big games with all three finishing with 14 points. Donte DiVincenzo joined them in double figures with 12.

• The visiting Quakers actually seemed up for the unique matchup, too, with standout sophomores AJ Brodeur (15 points) and Ryan Betley (11 points) putting Penn up 11-9 early. But it looked like some nerves caught up with them with a couple of players shooting airballs and getting rattled.

• As Brodeur and Betley go, so go the Quakers. Brodeur was productive inside but Betley, a native of nearby Downingtown, had an off night shooting until getting hotter late when the game was already out of reach.

• Eric Paschall also had a huge first-half dunk for Villanova — while getting fouled. And Bridges added a couple of his own in the second half, the second of which gave the Wildcats a commanding 74-47 edge with 8:38 remaining.

• Penn took a lot of threes as it usually does but connected on just one of its 10 first-half attempts. For the game, the Quakers shot 6 for 20 from behind the arc.

• Darnell Foreman scored 13 points for Penn and Jackson Donahue, who’s been in and out of the rotation, had a good night off the bench, hitting a couple of threes in the second half and making a couple of nice passes on backdoor cuts. He also endured some taunts from a few Villanova students who liked to call out “Jackson.”  

• Villanova, which held a comfortable 46-28 halftime lead, has beaten Penn in each of the last 15 seasons.

• Legendary Villanova coach Rollie Massimino, who died in August, was honored at halftime with his retired jersey presented to family. About 40 of his former players were in attendance at the old field house he used to call home. 

• The best spotted T-shirt in the crowd: “All Wright All Wright All Wright.”

• After playing Saint Joseph’s, Villanova meets Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden before closing out its Big 5 slate vs. La Salle on Dec. 10 and Temple on Dec. 13. The Wildcats are aiming for their fifth straight perfect Big 5 record.

• The Quakers, who lost an overtime heartbreaker to La Salle earlier in the season, face Temple and St. Joe’s in consecutive weeks in January.