ORLANDO, Fla. - After being off for 24 days, an in-season record break, the Penn men's basketball team could have been excused if it started a little slowly against the University of Central Florida in the first round of the Knights' UCF Holiday Classic.
The Quakers (1-7) hung with the Knights through a half, though, but UCF (7-4) made the plays at critical junctures throughout the second half and pulled away for an 81-64 win at the UCF Arena.
Penn will now play Campbell in Tuesday night's consolation game at 4:30 p.m.; the Camels fell to 3-7 after losing to Chicago State, 98-89, in Monday's first game. UCF and Chicago State will meet for the tournament title at 7 p.m.
Jack Eggleston led Penn with 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Tyler Bernardini and Kevin Egee scored 13 points apiece, while Brennan Votel had nine and a team-leading five rebounds. Freshman Rob Belcore made his first collegiate start, scoring three points and grabbing four rebounds in 30 minutes of action.
The Quakers had no answer for UCF's Jermaine Taylor, however; last year's MVP at this event made a strong case for repeating the honor, scoring 34 pointsmany of which camein the decisive part of the second half. He was the only Knight to score in double figures, although four others had eight or nine points.
A choppy, back-and-forth first half ended with UCF up, 35-32, despite 12 points from Bernardini. The opening stanza was marked by the officials, who called 26 fouls in all and sent the teams to the line for 27 foul shots.
Early in the second half, Penn was down 43-36 when Taylor caught fire. UCF's leading scorer went on a personal 9-4 run that pushed the Knights to a 52-40 lead with 13:30 to play.
Penn fought back, however. Egee got free for a layup, and then nearly two minutes later Eggleston knocked down a three-pointer. After another defensive stop, Cameron Lewis made one of two free throws and suddenly it was a six-point game as the second half neared its midpoint. Yet another stop gave Penn the ball, but Egee was unable to drain his trey attempt, and just like that Isaac Sosa hit a trifecta at the other end. Penn quickly brought the ball down the floor, but a turnover led to another Sosa three. Within 25 seconds, Penn had gone from potentially down three to down 12.
The Quakers scored the game's next five points to make the score 58-51 with 8:40 to play, but then Taylor had another personal run, this time an unanswered eight-point streak. That seemed to wilt Penn, which was unable to get within 14 points after that and fell behind by as much as 20 before settling on the final score.