CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The third matchup in a three-year span between Penn and UNC in men's basketball was far and away the best from a Quaker perspective, although the top-ranked Tar Heels were the ones who walked away with an 86-71 victory Saturday night.
In the season opener for both squads, North Carolina -- the top-ranked team in the nation-- used a late run in the first half to establish control of the contest, and while the Heels were never truly threatened they were never able to pull away from Penn. In fact, the Quakers got within 10 points with less than four minutes to go, briefly stirring an otherwise sleepy crowd at the Deandome, before UNC freshman Tyler Zeller helped restore order down the stretch.
UNC had beaten Penn two years ago here in Chapel Hill, 102-64, and last year the Tar Heels posted a 106-71 decision on the Quakers in Philadelphia.
Sophomore Tyler Bernardini led all scorers Saturday, matching his career high with 26 points (which he originally set in last year's meeting with the Tar Heels). Classmate Jack Eggleston, meanwhile, recorded his first collegiate double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and also had three assists, three steals and two blocked shots. Kevin Egee scored 11 points before fouling out, while Harrison Gaines added 10. Freshman Zack Rosen started his first collegiate game against the top-ranked team in the nation, and while he was scoreless on the day he led the Quakers with five assists. As a team, Penn hit 11 three-pointers.
Penn's only lead came at 3-2, before UNC scored five in a row to take a lead it would never relinquish. It was only a two-point contest (27-25 UNC) midway through the first half when Bernardini knocked down a trey, but the Heels went on a run that pushed their advantage to double digits. That lead was extended to 17 points before the break, and the teams went into the locker room with UNC up, 48-33.
Carolina looked like it would cruise to the win, opening things up to 20 points (57-37) with 17:25 left when Ty Lawson dropped a three-pointer. However, Penn had one more run in it, holding UNC withouta field goal for more than six minutes and clawing backto within 10 at 76-66 when Eggleston knocked down a trey.
However, Zeller -- who led six UNC players in doublefigures with 18 points -- converted one of two foul shots, and then followed free throws from Ed Davis and Lawson with a thunderous slam that put the score at 82-68 with 2:22 to go.
Deon Thompson scored 17 points and had seven rebounds for Carolina, while Philadelphia product Wayne Ellington had 13 points. Davis came off the bench to score 10 points and snare 14 rebounds, and Ellington and Lawson had five assists apiece. UNC played the game without the reigning National Player of the Year, Tyler Hansbrough, as well as returning starter Marcus Ginyard.
Penn did not travel several players with injuries (Aron Cohen, Darren Smith, Tommy McMahon, Justin Reilly), and junior Andreas Schreiber did not dress due to an injury though he was able to perform drills at Friday's practice in Chapel Hill.
Penn is back in action Tuesday morning, taking on Drexel at the Dragons' Daskalakis Athletic Center at 10 a.m. as part of ESPN's "Hoop Madness." It will mark Penn's first trip to the DAC.