ITHACA, N.Y. – the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team gained one of the program’s most improbable wins in recent memory on Friday night, coming back from a 12-0 deficit to start the game and defeating Cornell, 71-69.
Tony Hicks was the catalyst to Friday’s comeback win, scoring 20 of his 25 points in the second half. It was therefore appropriate that he was the hero, his drive and pull-up jumper in the lane falling true with just 4.0 seconds left.
Cornell’s Devin Cherry got the ball most of the way down the court for a final shot, but his effort fell off the mark and Penn was able to escape Newman Arena with the victory.
The first five minutes of Friday night’s game was simply abysmal if you’re a Penn fan. The Quakers had five turnovers while taking just three shots -- a missed dunk, a missed layup, and a missed jumper. Cornell, meanwhile, jumped out to a 12-0 lead.
Head coach Jerome Allen made wholesale substitutions, inserting Darnell Foreman, Matt Poplawski, Camryn Crocker, Dan Dwyer and Mike Auger. Crocker finally got the Quakers on the board with a three-pointer from the left corner, and at the next whistle Sam Jones came into the game, and he hit a trey on his first touch.
That seemed to settle Penn down, and after the next media timeout the starters came back in and were much better.
In fact, Penn (7-11, 2-2 Ivy League) got as close as four points before halftime, 23-19, but Cornell was able to open it back up thanks to three-point plays by Abdur Ra’oof (12) and Smith (1). It was 35-27 at the break.
It was Hicks who first got Penn level in the second half, draining his second straight three-point shot to make the score 43-43 with 11:21 to play. At that point Hicks had scored nine of Penn’s most recent 13 points, but it turned out he was just warming up.
From 43-43, Cornell (10-11, 2-3) responded as Cherry knocked down a jumper and then fed Robert Hatter for a trey. Hicks single-handedly allowed Penn to hang around, hitting a layup on one possession and then a pair of free throws on another. The run was stopped by a Darien Nelson-Henry free throw, but then Hicks picked it back up with two more foul shots and then a three.
At that point, Cornell’s lead was 58-53; there was 6:10 left to play; and Hicks had scored 18 of the Quakers’ 24 previous points.
Cornell shut him down after that, until his fateful shot at the end. In the meantime, a few unlikely heroes emerged.
Jones, the freshman, did not hit a shot in a game from December 22 until last weekend. He is a shooter, though, and after hitting one trey last Friday against Dartmouth and two the next night against Harvard, he had three on Friday night. The second of those came with 3:55 to play and turned a 61-54 game into a four-point affair. Then, after a Cornell turnover, he was fouled in the act of another long shot -- ultimately ruled to be a two -- and made the free throws.
Shonn Miller and Cherry hit foul shots on separate possessions to make it a four-point game again, but then Nelson-Henry emerged. First he scored on a nice post move, then he answered two more Miller foul shots with his own freebies. The score was 65-63 with 1:55 to play.
Miller (20 points, 10 rebounds) got on the block and converted a conventional three-point play, but Antonio Woods did the exact same thing at the other end to keep it a one-possession game. Hatter then missed a three-pointer -- on a night when he made four of them -- and Jones gave the Quakers their first lead of the night on his third trey of the night with 42 seconds to play, 69-68.
Miller was quickly fouled on the block at the other end, and after missing the first of two foul shots he made the second. That set the stage for Hicks’ heroics.
Woods scored 12 points for Penn and also led the Quakers with four assists, while Jones ended the night with 11 points. Nelson-Henry ended the game with seven points and nine rebounds, while Auger grabbed seven boards before fouling out.
For Cornell, Hatter complemented Miller with 16 points, while Cancer scored 10.
Penn returns to action on Saturday night, facing Columbia in New York City. The Quakers and the Lions will tip off in Levien Gym at 7 p.m.
Game Notes: Penn has won three of its last four games … Penn has beaten Cornell four straight times and six of the last seven meetings ... The two-point win was Penn’s smallest victory this season … Penn won for just the second time this season when trailing at the half; the eight-point deficit overcome was the largest this season … Penn improved to 7-2 this season when shooting a better field-goal percentage than its opponent … Penn improved to 3-0 when hitting more three-point baskets than its opponent … Penn’s 10 treys were a season high, and the most since the Quakers hit 10 last season against NJIT … Penn outrebounded Cornell, 38-25, the 13th time in 18 games that the Quakers have outboarded their opponent … Junior Tony Hicks scored 25 points, his team-leading 13th double-figure scoring game this season (49th career) … Hicks now has 12 games with 20 or more points in his career … In Penn’s seven wins this season, Hicks has 22 first-half points and 83 second-half points (in the last five wins, that disparity is 13/78) … Hicks has led Penn in scoring in 10 games this season … Hicks had 20 points in the second half, the second time in his career he has had a 20-point half (also the first half last year against Niagara) … Freshman Antonio Woods scored 12 points, his seventh double-figure scoring game … Freshman Sam Jones scored 11 points, his third double-figure game and first since December 9 (Marist) … Junior Darien Nelson-Henry led Penn in rebounding for the 10th time this season, with nine which is one shy of a season high … Freshman Mike Auger had seven rebounds, most in a game since he had nine against Villanova on January 17 … Hicks now has 968 points for his career; he needs 32 to reach 1,000.