A.J. Brodeur (above, in Jan.) set three different Penn records Saturday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
AJ Brodeur has played many memorable games in a Penn uniform, but none compare to his historic performance at the Palestra on Saturday.
Coming in, Brodeur needed 17 points to break Ernie Beck’s 67-year record as Penn’s all-time leading scorer, and his Quakers needed a win over Columbia to book a spot in the Ivy League tournament.
With Beck watching from the bleachers, Brodeur checked off both boxes in emphatic fashion, racking up 21 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds, and four blocks to lead Penn to an 85-65 win. Not only did Brodeur break Beck’s scoring record, but he also put up the first-ever triple-double in Quakers history and set new school records for career blocks and games played, too.
After the new mark had been set, Beck congratulated Brodeur to officially pass on the torch and cement the 6-foot-8 senior as a true Penn basketball great.
“Ernie’s always said to me, ‘if someone’s going to break my record, I love the way he plays. That’s the guy I’m proud to [have] break my record,’” Penn coach Steve Donahue said after the game.
“It’s almost even hard to say that I’m breaking that record because he’s a legend,” Brodeur said. “There’s a reason that record has stood for over 50 years and it doesn’t feel right to say that I’m taking it from him because that’s a record that’s going to be part of Penn history.”
Brodeur scored a layup off a pick-and-roll for his 17th and 18th points of the night with 9:46 still to go, and, unbeknownst to him at the time, was inching closer to his first triple-double over the ensuing minutes. Based off the crowd noise, Brodeur knew something else was going on, but it wasn’t until all was said and done that he realized the extent of the feat he had achieved
“I was like I must be close to a double-double, senior night, that’d be cool,” Brodeur said. “The next timeout, coach said, ‘I need you to get one more rebound’ and I was like, ‘oh, I really got that double-double now.’ And then I finally got it, I got subbed out, and then I hear on the loudspeaker that I got the first triple-double.”
“I just told him he’s got to get another rebound. I’ve never done that my whole career,” Donahue added. “It’s senior night, it’s his last game here. I felt that’s important. We set up two plays to get him an assist — he doesn’t even know that. But that’s how good he is.”
Indeed, it’s quite unusual for a big man to lead his team in assists like Brodeur has over the past two seasons. The Northfield-Mt. Hermon product has dazzled the Ivy League with his versatility and dexterity since his freshman season, and a triple-double in his final home game was a fitting way to close out his regular season collegiate career.
A four-year starter for the Quakers and the on-court leader of Penn basketball’s revival under Donahue, Brodeur will undoubtedly go down as one of the top players in program and league history. He now sits as Penn’s all-time leader in games played, starts, points, made field goals, and blocked shots, not to mention top-six totals for career minutes played, rebounds, and assists.
“I don’t think there’s a more complete player that I’ve ever coached,” said Donahue, gushing over the various tools in Brodeur’s arsenal. “No one who’s 6-8 leads a team in assists…it’s ridiculous.”
Brodeur and fellow seniors Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley — who scored 17 and 16 points, respectively, in Saturday night’s win — have now led Penn (16-11, 8-6 Ivy) to four straight Ivy Madness appearances and will look to extend the final chapter to their collegiate careers next weekend at the conference tournament.
First up is a matchup with top-seeded Yale at 11 AM next Saturday, a draw which the Quakers feel good about given their two contests against the Bulldogs earlier in the season. Penn defeated Yale at the Palestra in mid-February and nearly pulled off the sweep at New Haven last weekend before a last-minute collapse, so there’s plenty reason to believe the Quakers can produce an upset.
“We’ve played against [Yale] for 78 minutes really well and we feel like that’s a team that we want to draw,” Brodeur said. “Harvard at home, that’s a tough out. Princeton, for some reason they seemed to have our number in those first two games. So I’m comfortable in having that first game up in Cambridge against Yale and I feel like we can really show our stuff against the best team in the league.”
For the third time in the last four years, it did take Penn until the final regular season game to sneak into the top half of the conference, but the Quakers’ dramatic road to Ivy Madness means little now that the tournament field is set. The Red & Blue are playing their best basketball at just the right time following a fitting Palestra farewell for Brodeur, Goodman, and Betley, and they’ve got their eyes set on an Ivy League championship.
“I’m hoping that there’s more to write about this class,” Donahue said. “We’re more fresh than we’ve ever been at this point in the season, so we’re excited for next weekend.”