AJ Brodeur heats up the Palestra, Penn stays atop Columbia

#25 AJ Brodeur during men's basketball practice at the Palestra, at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, Friday, March 10, 2017.

Just before the halftime buzzer, Penn forward AJ Brodeur nailed another jumper and was mobbed by Quakers teammates. You could ask, why did they wait so long? Penn needed a little breathing room Saturday night at the Palestra against Columbia, right to the end. Brodeur provided it.

By halftime, Brodeur had 22 of Penn’s 33 points, providing a five-point lead. The last three minutes of the half, Brodeur went kind of nuts. The 6-foot-8 sophomore scored inside. He hit a three-pointer, and another. He missed an open look. Then he hit another three, for 11 points in the last five Penn possessions of the half.

He’d just made as many three-pointers in three minutes as he had in any game in his Penn career. His four three-pointers in the half were a career high, he added a fifth early in the second half, a sixth with two minutes left in the game, to finish with 30 points.

A year after grinding into the inaugural four-team Ivy League playoffs — a year after losing their first six Ivy regular-season games — the Penn Quakers are taking a different route in 2017-18. Saturday’s 77-71 victory over Columbia pushed Penn to 3-0 in the league, 12-5 overall.

Now, the Quakers will find out whether they can handle prosperity.

Columbia, which fell to 3-12 overall and 0-2 in the Ivies, wasn’t the pushover that record might suggest. The Lions had come up on the wrong end of all sorts of close ones, including in overtime at Connecticut. Penn wasn’t finding too many easy early possessions, until Brodeur took over. (His teammates had made just 5 of 20 shots, with 8 turnovers).

Penn’s defense continued to hold up. Columbia made just 11 of 37 shots (29.7 percent) in the first half, and didn’t score after the break until Penn had opened a 40-28 lead.

Going into the weekend, Brodeur, who had scored 18 points Friday night against Cornell, had made just 24.1 percent of his threes. Columbia was no doubt aware of that on its scouting report. The problem with scouting reports sometimes, they may give a cold player an opportunity to heat up.

Eventually, Columbia cut a 48-35 lead to 51-48. At that point, Ryan Betley hit a three off an offensive rebound and feed by Jarrod Simmons. Brodeur then came up with a big play at the other end, after Columbia had cut the lead to 54-40 and stolen the ball by midcourt. Brodeur got downcourt for a blocked shot that stopped the momentum. Betley (20 points)  hit a couple of more shots to keep the prosperity going, and helped seal the win with a last-minute steal.

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