PHILADELPHIA - In a game that was nearly as tight and taut as last year's meeting between these two teams -- though not nearly as high-scoring -- Penn fell to La Salle, 62-58, Tuesday night at The Palestra.
With the loss, the Quakers fell to 5-10 overall, and 0-2 in Philadelphia Big 5 action with Saint Joseph's and Temple on the horizon in the next week. La Salle won its second in a row and improved to 6-9 overall.
The Explorers took a 36-35 lead with more than 15 minutes still left in the game, and never trailed again. However, Penn had a few chances down the stretch to draw even, but just could not find the big basket.
The Quakers closed a seven-point gap (53-46) to just two, at 54-52, with 3:24 to play when freshman Jack Eggleston hit a pair of foul shots. La Salle doubled its advantage when Yves Mekongo Mbala finished a layup, but Penn again drew within two points when Cameron Lewis found Eggleston all alone under the hoop for an easy deuce.
La Salle's Paul Johnson missed a layup, but the Explorers got the rebound, and after a timeout Rodney Green elevated past everyone for a thunderous dunk just inside of two minutes to make the score 58-54.
Following a missed three-point attempt by Tyler Bernardini, La Salle's Darnell Harris was fouled and made the first of two shots -- a year after dropping 32 on the Quakers, that foul shot would be his fourth and final point of the night. Poetically, Aron Cohen -- who along with Kevin Egee was draped on Harrisdefensively most of the night -- cut the lead to three with 1:25 left on a pair of foul shots.
Penn held La Salle to a turnover on the ensuing possession, and after a timeout Brian Grandieri got inside and powered home a layup that made the score 59-58 and sent the Penn end of The Palestra into a frenzy. Only 31 seconds were left on the clock at that point, however, forcing the Quakers to foul once La Salle got the ball over halfcourt (and after the Explorers nearly threw it away).
Mekongo Mbala was the one fouled, and he swished both shots to make the score 61-58, La Salle, with 20 seconds to play.
Penn got the ball into the forecourt and called timeout; following the break, a play left sophomore Justin Reilly open on the right wing for a three-point attempt. The shot would not fall, however, and Mekongo Mbala grabbed the rebound with just four seconds left on the clock. He was immediately fouled, and made the first to give the Explorers an insurmountable lead.
(coincidentally, the three points Mekongo Mbala scored to end the game were more than he had in the first 39 minutes and 40 seconds of the contest; he ended the night with five)
Bernardini led all scorers, knocking down 20 for Penn to go along with six rebounds and two steals. Grandieri also reached double figures, with 11 points, and had seven boards, two assists and two thefts. In addition to his defensive work, Cohen dished out a game-high six assists, while Egee had three assists. Reilly blocked four shots in the game.
For La Salle, Green finished with 17 points and had three assists and three steals. Kimmani Barrett nearly had a double-double, with 15 points and nine boards, while Jerrell Williams finished with 10 points.
Penn remains in Big 5 action Saturday night, hosting Saint Joseph's at The Palestra at 7:30 p.m.