WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. - A year ago, this was a game the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team might have lost.
The 2013-14 Quakers are a year older and a year wiser, however, and on Tuesday night they made the plays down the stretch that were the difference in what ended up as a 79-73 win at Monmouth.
That said, Penn’s night might have been saved by a guy who entered the evening with exactly zero minutes of collegiate experience.
Hello, Julian Harrell. Welcome to college basketball.
The sophomore missed all of last year due to injuries, and he was bedeviled by more maladies this preseason. It seemed like as soon as he was well enough to play, something else would happen and set him back.
As a result, Tuesday night was his first official appearance in a Penn uniform. What a showing it was.
Penn never trailed in the second half, and was tied by Monmouth only once in the period. It was at that moment, with the game deadlocked at 59-59, that Harrell made his first big play. As Monmouth broke out from a defensive rebound, the sophomore came out of nowhere, stole the ball and rolled in for a layup – his first collegiate points.
The Quakers never trailed again.
Later, with less than 30 seconds left and Penn’s lead a precarious four points (75-71), Harrell was matched up with Monmouth’s best player on the night, Deon Jones. Jones got the ball out top, and attempted to drive into the lane. Harrell beat him to the spot. Charge.
Miles Jackson-Cartwright was fouled on the ensuing inbounds, and he’s usually cash money at the line. This time was no different. Max DiLeo got two of the points back on a layup, but Patrick Lucas-Perry was fouled and he hit his shots. That provided the final score.
For the game, Harrell had two points, five rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.
Beyond that, the big moments were provided by a lot of the usual suspects. Jackson-Cartwright (25 points) was huge all night long, never more than when he drained a trey from up top with the shot clock nearing zero and Penn’s lead at three points (70-67).
His classmate, Fran Dougherty, finished with eight points in the game but four of them came in consecutive trips down the floor when the game was still in the balance; he turned a 66-63 lead into a seven-point bulge and provided some breathing room.
Then there was Darien Nelson-Henry. The sophomore put together his second double-double in as many games, with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and twice pushed the Quakers’ lead from two points to four down the stretch – the first when he put back a Tony Hicks miss that made the score 63-59, the second when he hit two free throws to make the score 65-61. DNH went for seven points and seven boards in the critical second half.
The first half was an up-and-down affair, typical of what you might see in the early season from two teams that like to play up-tempo. The two teams combined for 24 turnovers in the opening period.
This was Monmouth’s home opener, and the Hawks came out on fire with 12 of the game’s first 14 points. However, Penn settled down and scored 16 straight points to gain the lead. That stretch extended to 20-1, at which point the Quakers’ advantage was 22-13.
Monmouth came back, primarily on the strength of Deon Jones. He was by far the best player on the floor at both ends for a few minutes, and scored six straight points to make the score 24-21. The Hawks eventually regained the lead, 29-28, when Andrew Nicholas drained a trey.
Penn scored the last 10 points of the half, though, to take a 41-33 lead into the locker room. Jackson-Cartwright knocked down a three that pushed the Quakers back in front, then Dau Jok and Hicks hit back-to-back shots (Jok's coming on a nice rebound and strong putback). Lucas-Perry’s trey ended the half.
Penn’s lead was as much as 11 in the second half, 54-43 when Henry Brooks hit a jumper in the paint. However, Monmouth scored seven of the next nine points to get within six, then reeled off five in a row to turn a 59-54 game into the only tie of the second half, 59-54.
Hicks finished the game with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals. For Monmouth, Andrew Nicholas had 19 points and seven rebounds while Jones finished the game with 17 points and eight boards. Justin Robinson scored 12 points, snared five rebounds, and dished out four assists.
Penn returns to action on Saturday, hosting Penn State at The Palestra. The Quakers and Nittany Lions will tip off at 2 p.m.
Game Notes: Penn improved to 5-1 all-time against Monmouth, and 21-13 overall against MAAC programs … Penn had 13 steals, a high in the Jerome Allen coaching era … Penn had 43 rebounds in the game, one shy of the team high in the Allen era … Senior Miles Jackson-Cartwright had 25 points, his 54th career double-figure scoring game and the 14th time he has hit at least 20 in a game … Jackson-Cartwright tied a career high with five three-point baskets … Sophomore Darien Nelson-Henry had his second-straight double-double, the fourth of his career, with 14 points and 11 rebounds … The 11 boards tied a career high … Sophomore Tony Hicks had 13 points, his 17th collegiate double-figure scoring game, and set new career highs with eight rebounds and four steals … Seniors Dau Jok and Cameron Gunter saw their first game action of 2013-14; Jok had three points and three rebounds in seven minutes of action.