PHILADELPHIA -In its first Big 5 match-up of 2015, the University of Pennsylvania defeated La Salle Wednesday night at The Palestra, 80-64. The Quakers were led by Darien Nelson-Henry, who set career highs with 31 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
Nelson-Henry was 14-of-19 from the floor -- the most by a Penn player since Hassan Duncombe made 15 against Colgate way back on January 20, 1990 -- and scored 10 more points than he has scored in any game previously at Penn. His rebound total bested his previous career high by three, and was the most by a Quakers player since Jack Eggleston had 15 against Saint Joseph's in 2011. The senior center's point total is the second-best output by an Ivy League player so far this season.
Sophomore Sam Jones chipped in 18 points, going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and scoring 16 after the break, while junior Matt Howard added 10 points.
Penn improved to 4-1 overall, and won its Big 5 opener for the first time since the 2004-05 season. The victory also was the Quakers' first over La Salle in nine tries.
The Quakers battled the Explorers for most of the first half. Penn held a 13-12 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining, but La Salle would then go on an 18-7 run over the next ten minutes to jump out to a 10-point lead at 30-20.
Penn closed out the half well, however, cutting the lead to five with a minute remaining. At that point, Nelson-Henry took a feed from Howard under the basket for a lay-up with seven seconds left to send the Quakers to the locker room trailing by three at 32-29.
Penn took little time evening things up in the second half. Just over a minute in, Jones hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 34. Then, after an empty La Salle possession, Nelson-Henry drove the lane, drew a foul, and finished to give the Quakers a lead they would not relinquish. He would strike again on the next two possessions with a nice moves in the post to give the Quakers a seven-point lead with less than 17 minutes remaining.
After a La Salle three, Nelson-Henry caught a pass under the basket and threw down an emphatic dunk. He scored on five straight possessions and had 22 of Penn's 28 points.
Antonio Woods broke Nelson-Henry's personal run, scoring on back-to-back trips down the court -- once inside, once from beyond the arc -- to cap a 30-9 Penn run that gave the Red and Blue a 50-39 lead with 12 minutes left.
The Explorers cut the lead to five with less than seven minutes remaining, at 57-52, but Penn went on an 10-0 run as four different players scored during the streak (Jamal Lewis, Nelson-Henry, Jones, Woods). Darnell Foreman gave the Penn its largest lead of the night with a three in the final minute, making it 80-61.Penn will be back in action on Sunday from Easton, Pa., when the Quakers take on Lafayette at 2 p.m.
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