VILLANOVA, Pa. - It was a tale of two halves for Penn on Saturday night at Villanova. Unfortunately, the opening 20 minutes left the Quakers in too deep of a hole to complete a spirited second-half comeback, and Penn fell, 73-65, at the Pavilion.
Down, 38-20, headed into the break, Penn exploded out of the locker with a 14-4 run keyed by strong bench play from Marin Kukoc and Cameron Gunter, but even with the lead back to single digits, Villanova was able to hold on by knocking down 20-of-24 free throws in the second stanza. Zack Rosen led the Quakers with 21 points, 15 of which came in the second half.
Villanova gained control early on in the contest with an 8-0 run out of the gates. Miles Cartwright was able to break the streak, holding down his pivot foot and twisting by a Wildcat defender to hit an elbow jumper, cutting it to 8-2.
Getting on the scoreboard seemed to ease Penn into an offensive rhythm. A scramble with a number of players hitting the deck ended with the ball in Cartwright's hands in the corner, and he drove past his man and scooped up a shot that hit soft off the glass and in. His free throw cut the lead to five at 13-8.
With Villanova's Maalik Wayns picking up his second foul with 11:06 left in the half, and the Villanova lead at five, there was a momentary opening for Penn to work its way back into the game, but trading buckets with the Wildcats was the best the Quakers could muster.
Rob Belcore, Rosen and Tyler Bernardini all knocked in jumpers to keep the Red and Blue within striking distance, but Bernardini's pull-up jumper from the top of the key was the final field goal Penn would hit in the first half, a stretch that lasted seven and a half minutes. With Penn unable to hit, Villanova reeled off its second big run of the half, a 10-0 spurt over five minutes that extended the lead to 32-16 before Cartwright hit a pair of shots from the charity stripe. A running floater from 'Nova's Ty Johnson at the buzzer put an exclamation point on the first twenty minutes.
All 20 Penn points came from starters in the first half, but that was remedied early in the second half when Henry Brooks scored off a putback. A few minutes later, Bernardini hit the Quakers' first three-pointer of the evening, and Kukoc made it back-to-back on the next possession, slashing the lead to 10 in just seven minutes of game action. Bernardini capped the 14-4 run with an aggressive drive to the basket, making the score, 42-34.
The next eight minutes were played to a stalemate, with each team answering the other every time down. A Bernardini drive and dish to Brooks resulted in an easy layin that made the score, 55-47, with 4:30 remaining in the contest. As the clock ran down, Villanova was often unable to score out of its offense, but second opportunities and the foul line kept the Quakers at bay. Following a well-executed inbounds play that freed up Kukoc for a lay-up that made it 60-51, the Wildcats were able to run over a minute of clock after securing offensive rebounds, eventually getting fouled where they hit one out of two for a 61-51 edge with 1:15 left.
Rosen immediately came down and delivered his specialty, a deep three off a high screen. Mouphtaou Yarou answered with a pair at the line, but Rosen bombed in his second straight triple to make it 63-57. With under a minute remaining, Penn was forced to press to speed up the tempo. A series of cross-court passes from 'Nova broke the Penn's trap, freeing up Marou for a layup and a foul. His free throw gave him the last of his 21 points in the contest and a 66-57 lead.
After Rosen and Wayns traded free throws, Bernardini swished a three from the corner, and Rosen had one last three in his arsenal to bring the Quakers within four at 69-65, the closest they had been since the game's early moments. With only 15 seconds left in the game, Penn finally ran out of steam, and four free throws from the Wildcats sealed the victory.
Penn falls to 4-5 on the season and will return home to The Palestra on Wednesday night to face the Delaware Blue Hens. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Penn-Villanova Game Notes: Penn lost for the first time in three road games this season ... Penn lost for the first time in four games this season when three or more players scored in double figures ... After starting the game 0-for-10 on three-point shots, Penn went 7-of-12 from beyond the arc ... Penn has held seven of its nine opponents this season below 45-percent shooting from the field; last year the Quakers held just 14 of 28 opponents below that mark ... Senior guard Zack Rosen scored 21 points, his sixth game with 20 or more points ... Rosen remains the only Quaker player to hit double figures in the scoring column in every game this season ... Rosen's streak of consecutive free throws made ended at 25 when he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 in the game's final minute ... Rosen tied a season high with six rebounds, tying for team-high honors in the game with senior guard Tyler Bernardini ... Bernardini scored 13 points, his seventh double-figure scoring game of 2011-12 ... Bernardini has led or tied for the team lead in rebounding in seven of Penn's nine games this season ... Sophomore Miles Cartwright scored 12 points, his fourth double-figure scoring game of 2011-12 ... Sophomore Cameron Gunter set a season high with six points and 10 minutes ... Freshman Henry Brooks set a season/career high with five rebounds ... Sophomore Marin Kukoc scored seven points, giving him 24 in the last three contests, and tied a season/career best with two blocked shots.