NEW HAVEN, Conn. – On Friday night, a second-half lineup that featured four freshmen (Darnell Foreman, Antonio Woods, Sam Jones and Dan Dwyer) along with junior Tony Hicks nearly led the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team back from a 19-point deficit to a win at Brown.
On Saturday, Penn head coach Jerome Allen rewarded their effort -- and maybe sent a message to the rest of the team -- by starting that same five against Ivy League co-leader Yale.
The result was -- top to bottom -- a Quakers team that was energetic, focused, and passionate all night. It nearly led to the biggest upset of the Ivy season.
In the end, though, Yale’s veteran players made veteran plays while Penn’s youthful players did not. The final result was a 55-50 Bulldogs victory that had Yale fans breathing a sigh of relief and Penn fans ruing what could have been.
Penn led almost the entire way; Yale’s first lead of the night did not come until there was just 2:18 left in regulation when Javier Duren (game-high 19 points) knocked down a pair of free throws. Those shots were part of a 10-0 Bulldogs run that covered more than three minutes after Darien Nelson-Henry had pushed Penn in front, 47-43.
The dagger came after the free throws. At the other end, Sam Jones missed a quick three-point attempt, but Nelson-Henry secured the board and found Woods who was fouled with 1:47 to play. Shooting a 1-and-1, the freshman missed the front end. At the other end, Yale junior Jack Montague shook free just long enough to drain a trey (his third of the night) to push the Bulldogs up by four (51-47).
With Penn in hurry-up mode, Jones forced up a three that Justin Sears blocked. Yale then worked the ball, and Sears put the nail in the coffin with just one second left on the shot clock (and 33 on the game clock) with a baseline drive that resulted in a layup and a Nelson-Henry foul. Sears made the free throw, and that pretty much sealed it.
Tony Hicks (12 points) briefly gave Penn life with a trey to make it 54-50, and then after Duren hit one of two freebies Hicks tried another trey that missed. Darnell Foreman ended up with the rebound and got two foul shots; however, the freshman missed both of them.
Led by Woods and Hicks, who combined for 19 first-half points, Penn led by as many as nine points in the period and took a 28-25 lead into the halftime break.
The Quakers lead was still seven (37-30) early in the second half when Yale scored six in a row to get the crowd into it. Matt Townsend started the run, then Sears kept it going by picking Woods’ pocket out top and taking it the other way for a dunk. When Makai Mason knocked down a layup to make the score 37-36, Coach Allen had seen enough and called timeout.
The break helped. Matt Howard pushed the lead back up to three points with a layup, and then Nelson-Henry and Woods worked a pick-and-roll to get the big man free for a layup that made the score 41-36.
It would be more than four minutes before Penn would score again, but Yale had its own struggles as the only basket during that stretch came on a second-chance jumper by Duren. When Woods ended the Quakers’ drought with a jumper, the score was 43-38 with seven minutes to play.
Yale finally got level for the first time since 0-0, thanks to Duren. First he hit two foul shots, and then with 5:20 to play he drained a three-pointer to make the score 43-43.
Before the crowd had subsided, Penn was back in front as Mike Auger drained a baby hook in the lane. Then Sears turned it over at the other end, and once again Nelson-Henry and Woods worked the pick-and-roll to perfection for a 47-43 lead.
Woods finished the night with 14 points and six assists, and Auger complemented the effort with eight points and four rebounds. For Yale, Montague was the only other player besides Duren to reach double figures as he had 11. Sears finished the night with nine points and eight rebounds.
Penn is home for its final three games this season, starting next weekend when the Quakers host Columbia on Friday night and Cornell on Saturday night. Both of those games will tip off at 7 p.m., and Friday’s contest with the Lions will be televised live on ESPN3/WatchESPN in addition to the Ivy League Digital Network.