PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team fought back valiantly Tuesday night at The Palestra, overcoming a late 15-point deficit to tie Lafayette. However, the Leopards were able to make the plays in the final minutes, and escaped with their first-ever win at The Palestra, 85-83.
The loss dropped Penn to 2-12 on this season, while Lafayette improved to 7-10 overall.
For the first time this season, Penn's offense seemed to click on almost all cylinders -- the Quakers shot 59.6 percent from the field and had four players score in double figures with two more scoring eight points. Only one problem: Lafayette bettered the Quakers in both categories, shooting a sizzling 61.2 percent for the game and placing six different players in double digits. Penn went 6-of-14 (42.9 percent) on three-pointers; Lafayette was 7 of 15 (46.7). To the naked eye, the Leopards seldom looked troubled on offense.
Despite that, Penn had a chance to tie or win with the game's final possession. Down two, and with 7.6 seconds to play, the Quakers inbounded in front of their own bench. The ball came to Tony Hicks, whose momentum was sending him into the lane. A Lafayette defender got in front of him to try and take a charge, but Hicks pushed a pass out to Steve Rennard who was open on the left wing. For the win, Rennard put up a three-pointer - and it fell off. The ball ended up in Dau Jok's hands, but his desperation shot was blocked by a Leopard defender as the horn sounded. The crowd called for a foul, but it was probably the right call for the ref to swallow the whistle on the play.
It was an unfortunate ending for Penn, which lifted itself from oblivion over a span of less than five minutes. The Quakers were down, 75-60, with 7:47 left after Joey Ptasinski hit a pair of foul shots out of the eight-minute media timeout. However, the Red and Blue went on a 21-6 run and tied the game before the next media timeout, which came with 2:29 to play.
Hicks played a key role in the run, scoring six points and dishing off a pair of assists. However, there were plenty of role players in the streak -- Jok had eight of his team-high 18 points, Darien Nelson-Henry scored four, and Rennard knocked down a trey. Camryn Crocker had three of his six assists for the game in that span.
Nelson-Henry actually had a chance to give Penn the lead out of that final media break, as he went to the line for two shots. He missed both. Lafayette came down, patiently worked the ball around, and eventually freshman Bryce Scott hit arguably the biggest shot of the game, a three from up top that pushed the Leopards back in front, 84-81.
Nelson-Henry missed a layup in traffic, but Lafayette's Tony Johnson missed his own layup that could have pushed the Leopards in front by two possessions. Hicks got the board, streaked down the court, and fed Henry Brooks for a basket as the clock went inside a minute.
Scott took another trey, but this one missed, and again Hicks landed the board. After a timeout, Hicks got the ball near the top, drove into the lane and took a shot at the left elbow that circled the rim before falling away. Levi Giese got the board for Lafayette and was fouled by Hicks. He made the first but missed the second, setting the stage for the Quakers' final possession.
The offense came a little too easily for both sides in the first half -- Lafayette was a sizzling 16-of-23 from the field in a half-court game (4-of-6 on three-pointers), while Penn pushed the play and was 17-of-28 from the field. The result was a half that saw seven lead changes, and the largest lead anyone had was when the Quakers jumped out to a 32-26 advantage. However, Lafayette used a 10-4 run to tie the game at 36-36, and gained its first lead of the game with the final points of the stanza, a jumper by Bryce Scott that made the score 41-40.
Lafayette continued its hot play to open the second half, hitting its first four shots and going 6-of-8 to be up, 55-47, at the first media timeout. At that point, the Leopards were an incredible 22-of-31 (71.0 percent) from the field for the game.
Nelson-Henry finished the game with 17 points, while Hicks had 12, Greg Louis had 10, and Miles Cartwright and Brooks scored eight apiece. Jok had a game-high seven rebounds to go with his 18 points. Cartwright also finished the game with eight assists, while Crocker had six. As a team, Penn's shooting percentage was easily its best this season, and the Quakers tied a season low with just 11 turnovers.
For Lafayette, Johnson finished the game with 25 points while Dan Trist had 17 and Scott had 11. Ptasinski, Giese and Seth Hinrichs had 10 each. While the Leopards shot just 18-of-26 from the foul line in the game, they were 7-of-8 down the stretch -- the only miss being Giese's final foul shot -- and 13-of-16 in the second half (in a game with a two-point final, Penn was 11-of-16 in the period).
Penn opens Ivy League play in its next game, traveling to Princeton to play the preseason favorite Tigers Saturday. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. at Jadwin Gym, and the game will be televised to a national audience on the NBC Sports Network.
Game Notes: Penn is now 0-3 in games decided by two or fewer points this season, and that does NOT include its overtime loss at Wagner (which the Quakers lost by five) ... Penn lost despite setting season team highs in points (83), shooting percentage (59.6), three-point field-goal percentage (42.9), field goals made (31) and assists (22) and tying a team low for turnovers (11) ... The 22 assists tied a team high for the Jerome Allen coaching era (also 22 against Marist last year) ... Penn's shooting percentage was its best in nearly two years, when the Quakers shot 62.8 percent against Dartmouth on Feb. 4, 2011 ... Penn's 22/11 assist/turnover ratio was by far its best this year; in fact, it was just the second time this season the Quakers have had more assists than turnovers ... Penn also had nine steals, giving the Quakers 32 in the last four games (8.0 per game) ... Penn got more points from its bench players (51) than its starters (32) for the second straight game; the bench players have outscored the starters 87-53 in the last two games ... Junior Dau Jok scored 18 points, not only a career high but also his first double-figure scoring game at Penn ... Jok became the fifth different player to lead Penn in scoring in a game this season (also Cartwright, Hicks, Louis and Dougherty) ... Jok has scored 26 points in Penn's last two games; the junior entered last Saturday's La Salle game with 37 career points ... Jok also had a game-high seven rebounds, giving him 18 boards in the last two games ... Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry's 17 points were more than double his previous season/career high, which came last Saturday at La Salle (8) ... In his last five appearances, Nelson-Henry has 44 points (8.8 ppg) ... Freshman Tony Hicks hit double figures for the third straight game (12.0 ppg in that span) and fifth time this season ... Hicks also had a season/career high in rebounds (5) and tied his season/career best in assists (4) ... Junior Miles Cartwright had eight points and tied a career high with eight assists ... Sophomore Greg Louis had 10 points, his second double-figure scoring performance at Penn ... Sophomore Camryn Crocker tied his season/career high in assists (6), which he previously set in the Quakers' last game, Saturday at La Salle ... In the last two games, Crocker's assist/turnover ratio is 4.00 (12/3) ... Sophomore Henry Brooks had eight points, giving him 36 in the last four games (9.0 ppg) ... Penn played for the fourth straight game without leading scorer Fran Dougherty, who is out due to mononucleosis.