PHILADELPHIA - Well, now.
The University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team is young this year. It is also inexperienced. The general consensus is that fans should be patient with this group, that such teams provide more than the usual ups and downs.
Little did anyone suspect that Friday night's opening game at The Palestra, against UMBC, would go as low as it did -- or as high. In the end, the highs outweighed the lows for Quaker fans, and the result was an 80-75 Penn victory over the Retrievers.
Penn (1-0) has now won its season opener for the third year in a row, and for the second straight season the victim was UMBC. In the process, the Quakers set a program record by overcoming a 22-point deficit to gain the victory.
The low point? It had to be when the Retrievers' Brett Roseboro hit a layup, his second straight bucket, with 5:08 to play in the first half. They were UMBC's 14th and 15th straight unanswered points, it put the Retrievers' run at 31-9 run over a span of 10:23, and it made the score 42-20. Patience may have been the order of the night, especially on this opening night, but grumblings and groans were audible throughout The Palestra.
It turns out that Penn's hero had arrived on the court just prior to that play. After playing a grand total of 28 minutes last season as a freshman, sophomore Patrick Lucas-Perry was ready to announce himself.
First he hit a pair of free throws. Two possessions later, he drained a three, then stole the long inbounds and fed Camryn Crocker who immediately found Darien Nelson-Henry for a layup that made the score 44-27. Lucas-Perry then stole UMBC's ensuing inbounds, and led Crocker who was fouled as he laid the ball up. That stirred the crowd back in a positive direction as the teams went to the benches for a media timeout.
Crocker hit the foul shots after the break, and by the time halftime arrived Penn had gotten back to within 48-34, a much more manageable deficit.
That turned out to be mere prelude.
The second half started with the teams trading a pair of points, then Penn got within single digits of UMBC for the first time in almost 11 minutes with a five-point run from Fran Dougherty's layup and Tony Hicks' three-pointer that made it 50-41. The crowd's buzz grew a bit with every point the Quakers made up.
With 14 minutes left, UMBC's lead was still 10, at 55-45. At that point, Penn ripped off nine points in a row, a run that was punctuated by a jumper and then a three-pointer by Cartwright. Ryan Cook got two of those points back for the Retrievers with a jumper to make it 57-54, but Hicks got a layup and then Cameron Gunter tipped in a missed Cartwright trey attempt that pushed Penn in front for the first time since 11-9, at 58-57. There was 10:27 left.
Penn wasn't done. A UMBC turnover led to another Cartwright jumper, then another Retrievers turnover -- they had 16 in the second half -- turned into a Cartwright trey that made the score 63-57. UMBC missed its next shot, and Lucas-Perry found Henry Brooks for a driving layup and the foul. After he hit the free throw, the score was 66-57. Then Hicks stole the ball from Cook, and he fed Brooks for yet another driving layup while being fouled.
At that point, the score was 68-57. If you are scoring at home, the Penn run had been 48-15 over a span of 17:31.
After that, it was about preservation. UMBC got within eight on a few occasions during the final five minutes, and Penn made things a bit nervy with missed free throws down the stretch, but ultimately the closest deficit after 68-57 was the five-point final score when Cook hit a trey just ahead of the final buzzer.
The big question entering this season was who would step up in the absence of graduated Rob Belcore, Tyler Bernardini and Zack Rosen. Early indications are that it may be the sum of the parts. For one thing, all 12 players who dressed on Friday played in the first half. Ten of them scored, and nine of them dished out assists. When the game was over, Cartwright had finished the night with 21 points, while Lucas-Perry had 15 (11 more than he scored all of last season). In his collegiate debut, Hicks had 13 points, three assists and three steals. Dougherty had nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds.
Penn heads to the University of Virginia for its next two games, as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off. The first comes Monday night at 9:30 p.m., when the Quakers face Delaware -- the first of two meetings they will have with the Blue Hens this season -- and depending on how that game goes they will face either Fairfield or the host Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Game Notes: Penn won its season opener for the third straight year; head coach Jerome Allen is 3-0 in season openers (he took over after seven games in 2009-10) ... Penn's win Friday was its 1,698th as a program, and the 804th at The Palestra ... According to NCAA records, Penn set a program record by overcoming a 22-point deficit to win (see NCAA list here) ... All 12 players who dressed for Penn played in the first half (the players who did not dress were sophomore Keelan Cairns and freshmen Julian Harrell and Jamal Lewis) ... Ten different players scored in the game for the Quakers, and nine different players had assists ... Penn scored 80 points, something the Quakers did just three times all of last season (they won all three of those games, and are now 6-2 in such contests under Coach Allen) ... Penn took nearly twice as many free throws as UMBC (27-14); the Quakers went 8-1 in such games last year, and are now 24-8 under Coach Allen when it happens ... Penn had 12 steals in the game, tying a high in the Allen coaching era (most recently set last Feb. 11 against Dartmouth) ... Junior Miles Cartwright led Penn in scoring, with 21 points; it was his 34th career double-figure scoring game, and his seventh game with 20 or more points ... Sophomore Patrick Lucas-Perry scored 15 points in 17 minutes; last year, he scored four points and played 28 minutes for the entire season ... Lucas-Perry had more points after just 2:24 of action (5) than he had all of last season ... Lucas-Perry also had five steals, the most by a Penn player since Zack Rosen had five at Cornell last January 14 ... In his collegiate debut, freshman Tony Hicks scored 13 points, going 4-of-5 from the field and hitting all three of his three-point attempts ... Hicks also had four rebounds, three assists and three steals in 24 minutes ... Sophomore Fran Dougherty nearly had his first collegiate double-double, with nine points and a career-high 11 rebounds (previous high eight) ... Sophomore Camryn Crocker scored four points and set a career best with three assists ... Freshman Darien Nelson-Henry and sophomore Greg Louis made their collegiate debuts; Nelson-Henry had two points and two rebounds in 11 minutes, while Louis had a point, an assist and a blocked shot in four minutes.