PHILADELPHIA - Coming off a disheartening loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, the University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team had one of two directions it could go for Saturday's game against Ivy frontrunner Harvard.
The Quakers could roll over and let the Crimson run all over them -- not far from what happened two weeks ago in Cambridge -- or they could bear down and give Harvard all it could handle.
On this night, Penn chose the latter.
Penn never trailed in this game, and led by as many as 13 points in the second half. Harvard crept back and made a Palestra crowd 5,267 nervous down the stretch, but Penn made enough free throws to keep the Crimson at bay and win, 75-72.
As a result, Harvard (17-9) now drops behind Princeton at the top of the Ivy League standings, at 9-3. The Tigers defeated Dartmouth, 68-63, improving to 9-2 in the standings. Penn can continue to affect the championship race, as Princeton comes to The Palestra in 10 days.
Tony Hicks had the final point of the game, and it was somehow appropriate; he finished the night with a game-high 24 points, five assists and three steals in the game. One night after taking just two shots and scoring zero points, classmate Darien Nelson-Henry had his second double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) as well as three steals. Henry Brooks and Miles Cartwright scored 12 points apiece.
What was perhaps most impressive about Saturday's win was the way the Quakers held on. Harvard has won a good number of close games this season, especially in the Ivy League. Not on this night.
Penn (8-20, 5-6 Ivy) was up three, at 62-59, after consecutive three-pointers by Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard sandwiched a jumper by Darien Nelson-Henry. Miles Cartwright hit a pair of free throws, and then after Webster missed a jumper Cameron Gunter shook free and hit a layup in traffic to make the score 66-59.
Wesley Saunders hit a free throw to get Harvard to 60, and then Harvard rebounded his miss of the second foul shot and it led to a Steve Moundou-Missi dunk over Nelson-Henry with 2:43 left.
Jamal Lewis made one of two free throws with 2:07 to play, and then Kenyatta Smith missed a jumper and Cartwright got the rebound. He was fouled by Webster and hit both foul shots to make the score 69-62 with 1:44 left.
Rivard came down and drained a three-pointer that had to have been close to 30 feet away. Penn came down and ran the shot clock down, the final result being a airball 3 that landed in Smith's hands. However, Lewis stole the ball from Siyani Chambers and Cartwright was fouled by Rivard as the clock went inside a minute. He made one of the two, and it was 70-65.
Webster was fouled as he put up a trey attempt, but he made just one of the three shots to make the score 70-66. Cartwright was immediately fouled on the inbounds and made one of two.
Webster missed a trey, and the long rebound went to Hicks who was fouled by Chambers as he drove down the court. He made one of the two foul shots, putting the score at 72-66, but Chambers then banked in a trey that from the top of the circle to make it a three-point game.
Cartwright was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and hit both free throws, creating a two-possession game in the final 10 seconds, and that was important because Webster hit yet another three-pointer to make the score 74-72.
Hicks was fouled on the inbounds with 2.6 seconds left -- a time that the refs settled on after a lengthy look at the monitor -- and made the second after front-rimming the first. Webster's final shot was no good, and only then could Penn players, coaches and fans breathe a sigh of relief.
Saunders, the Ivy League's leading scorer, had 20 points on Saturday, while Webster scored 16. Rivard had 10 points, Moundou-Missi added 10, and Smith recorded seven points and 10 rebounds.
Before hosting Princeton, the Penn men are at Brown and Yale next weekend. The Quakers and Bears will tip off Friday at 7 p.m., and then Penn and Yale play Saturday at 7.
Game Notes: For the first time this season Penn won a game that it never trailed or was tied ... Penn's 38-26 halftime lead was its largest this season ... Penn shot 52.8 percent from the field, the third time in five games and sixth time this season the Quakers have shot 50 percent or better ... Penn had 10 steals, just the third time that has happened this season (the first two came in the first two games of the season) ... Penn had fewer turnovers than its opponent for the ninth time this season, and the first time in six games ... Penn tied a team low for the season and the Jerome Allen coaching era by taking just eight three-point shots ... Freshman Tony Hicks was the game's leading scorer for the fourth straight game, with 24 points ... Hicks has averaged 23.8 points per game in this four-game stretch, shooting 54.7 percent from the field (35 of 64) ... Hicks also tied his season/career highs in assists (5) and steals (3) ... Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry had his second collegiate double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds ... The 18 points were a season/career high, while the 11 rebounds tied a season/career best ... Nelson-Henry also tied a season/career high with three steals ... Junior Miles Cartwright scored 12 points, his 17th double-figure scoring game this season and 50th at Penn ... Sophomore Henry Brooks scored 12 points, his second straight double-figure scoring game, sixth this season, and ninth at Penn ... Junior Cameron Gunter had four points; he has had 14 points in two games against Harvard, and 16 against everyone else this season.