PHILADELPHIA - A year ago, Penn and Elon met for the first time in men’s basketball, and the result was a taut, 66-64 affair that the Quakers won on Elon’s home court.
Fast-forward nearly a year, and the Quakers and Phoenix were meeting for the second time in this home-and-home series. The result was amazingly similar this time, playing at The Palestra, Penn escaped with a 67-64 decision.
The win was Penn’s second in a row, and came 12 days after the first of those victories. The Quakers are now 4-7 overall, and are off for another nine days because of Christmas.
Elon, which was playing its second road game in three nights, fell to 5-6 overall.
Tyler Bernardini had another outstanding performance for Penn; the freshman scored 23 points, the third time in the last four games he has gone over the 20-point mark. Bernardini shot 8-of-11 from the field, and drained three free throws down the stretch that proved to be the difference.
Senior Brian Grandieri had another workmanlike game, finishing with 13 points and snaring eight rebounds while dishing off three assists. It was his third-straight game in double figures, and ninth this season. Freshman Jack Eggleston had eight points and four boards, while junior Aron Cohen again got the start at point guard and dished out five assists.
For Elon, Brett James led three players in double figures with 14 points, while Montell Watson scored 13 and Ola Atoyebi had 11. T.J. Douglas also had a strong game for the Phoenix, with nine points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes.
Penn took a 41-40 lead with 16:27 left in the game when Grandieri shook free for a layup off a Harrison Gaines pass, and the Quakers never trailed again after that point. However, this game was in doubt right up until the final seconds.
Penn led, 52-42, with just over nine minutes to play, but Elon roared back behind Atoyebi who scored six straight points. James followed with a jumper, and suddenly it was a two-point game with more than seven minutes left.
Grandieri and Bernardini pushed the lead back out to six with layups, but Atoyebi got inside for a three-point play that cut the Phoenix deficit in half.
With just 2:22 left and Penn’s lead still a precarious four (61-57), Grandieri made arguably the defensive play of the game from a Quaker standpoint. With Elon on the break, he was able to catch up to Watson and poke the ball away from behind. The ball went to Bernardini, who went the other way, scored a layup and was fouled. He hit the free throw, and the five-point turnaround made the score 64-57.
James responded with consecutive dunks, cutting the lead to 64-61, and then a lengthy possession failed to yield a good shot opportunity. Gaines was left to put up a tough shot, which did not fall, and then Elon came down quickly and Watson was fouled by Gaines with just 1:01 to play. He missed his foul shot, however the Phoenix’ only miss from the line all game and Penn got the ball back.
After a timeout, Grandieri got caught in no-man’s land and was stripped of the ball with 32 seconds left. Elon quickly worked the ball around, and Atoyebi got it in traffic and was unable to convert his close-in attempt. Bernardini got the board, was fouled, and hit both free throws with 18 seconds left that made the score 66-61.
Watson hit a three-pointer with 4.7 seconds left, and after an Elon timeout the Phoenix again fouled Bernardini before the ball was even inbounded. The freshman missed his first but hit his second, and then Elon was unable to make much of its final opportunity as Watson missed a long desperation shot.
The first half was an evenly-played affair, as there were seven lead changes and neither team ever held an advantage larger than five. The Quakers jumped out early and led 9-4 after just four minutes, but Elon used an eight-point run midway through the stanza to turn a four-point deficit into a 21-17 edge.
For Penn, nine different players scored in the opening half, while Elon had seven different players get on the board.
Penn is now off until after Christmas, when the Quakers travel to Florida for a pair of games. The first comes next Saturday (December 29) at Florida Gulf Coast, and the second comes January 2 when Penn is at the University of Miami.