PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball program opened up the 2015-16 campaign by picking up a last-minute win over Robert Morris, 76-75 on Friday night at the Palestra.
The Quakers were led by Sam Jones who accounted for 21 points, knocking down five three-pointers. Matt Howard scored 16 points for Penn, but it was Darien Nelson-Henry who played the hero in the dramatic finish.
Both sides struggled shooting the ball in the early going, but found some success driving the basketball. Penn was held to just 1-for-6 from three-point range through the first 10 minutes, but found themselves tied at 15.
Penn found its stroke shortly after, and jumped out to a 13-point lead. With just under six minutes left, the Quakers went on a 12-2 run, started by a technical foul on RMU’s Elijah Minnie for taunting the Penn bench after he completed an alley-oop. Sam Jones knocked down both free throws and a pair of threes to build the lead to 32-19.
After the 1-of-6 start from beyond the arc, Penn knocked down five of its next nine to maintain the lead. With the final seconds ticking off the clock in the first half, Antonio Woods drilled another three-pointer to give the Quakers their largest lead of the half at 44-28. Jones led all scorers with 15 points in the opening period, while Matt Howard chipped in with 10.
Howard and Jones continued their hot start, scoring five of the first seven Quaker points to open up the second half and build the lead to 51-34.
Robert Morris cut the lead to 12 with less than 12 minutes remaining, but Mike Auger laid in a reverse lay-up and Darnell Foreman scored on a fast break to build the lead back to 16 at 59-43. The Colonials again drew within 12, but Jones knocked down his fifth three-pointer of the game with just over eight minutes left putting the lead back to 15.
Robert Morris finally made it a single-digit deficit when Rodney Pryor hit a three, making it 69-60, with just over six to play. Pryor and Kavon Stewart then brought RMU within three, 69-66 a minute later, hitting back-to-back treys. After a Howard lay-up to push the lead back to five, Minnie made the Colonials' third three in as many trips to close the Penn lead to just two with 3:35 remaining.
Matty McConnell made a both halves of a one-and-one to tie things up moments later, before Stewart went 1-for-2 from the line to give RMU a 72-71 lead with 2:30 left.
With 1:29 remaining, Woods hit a three to regain a two-point lead for Penn. Stewart brought RMU back within one with a free-throw, but missed the back end. However, it was rebounded by Minnie, which led to another Pryor bucket. That gave the Colonials a one-point lead once more with under a minute left.
Not to be denied, Penn regained the lead with 31 seconds left thanks to Nelson-Henry, who finished a nice feed under the basket to give the Quakers a 76-75 advantage. That would prove to be enough, as Pryor’s mid-range attempt in the final seconds came up empty, giving the Quakers a win on opening night.
Nelson-Henry finished the night with 12 points and a team-leading nine rebounds.
The Quakers are back at it on Sunday, hosting Central Connecticut State at 4 p.m. at The Palestra.
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