CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Entering Wednesday night’s nationally-televised game with No. 2 North Carolina, the Penn men’s basketball team knew it was going to take a supreme effort to knock off the prolific Tar Heels.
UNC entered the contest with a 12-1 record, averaging 88.9 points per game including four games scoring more than 100 points and with an average margin of victory of nearly 24 points per contest.
Despite those daunting stats, the Quakers stayed within range of the Tar Heels for almost 30 minutes. In fact, when the teams went into a media timeout with 7:56 to play in the game, UNC was up 69-54.
UNC is deep, athletic and lethal, though, and that was certainly on display in the game’s final eight minutes. The Tar Heels outscored the Quakers, 33-10, coming out of that timeout and rolled to a 102-64 victory at the Dean E. Smith Center.
Ibrahim Jaaber led Penn (6-6) in front of a crowd of 19,378 at the Dean Dome, scoring 21 points (going 8-of-12 from the field), dishing out eight assists and coming up with three steals. However, he was the only Quaker to reach double figures in scoring, highlighted by Mark Zoller who saw a 17-game streak of double-figure scoring games ended. He had eight points to go with 10 rebounds.
Kevin Egee came off the bench to score eight points, while Steve Danley had six.
For Carolina (13-1), Reyshawn Terry had 19 points and nine rebounds, while Tyler Hansbrough had 19 points and five boards. Freshman Wayne Ellington who played his high-school ball at Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia had 17 points, while Brandan Wright scored 12.
The surest sign of Penn’s problems down the stretch came in its field-goal shooting. The Quakers shot 56.5 percent from the field in the opening half (when they were down, 39-30), the second-best percentage against UNC in a half this season. At the media timeout with 11:42 left to play in the game, Penn was still shooting a sizzling 58.8 percent from the field (20-of-34).
The Quakers made just three of their next 22 shots after that, however, and finished 25-of-59 (42.4) for the game. Penn was also hampered by one of its most common bugaboos in its losses this year, with 21 turnovers on the night.
Penn got off to a fast start Wednesday night, scoring the first five points when Tommy McMahon drained a three-pointer and then another field goal before the game was a minute old. Five minutes into the game, the Quakers were up 15-8, and Carolina coach Roy Williams made the extreme move of benching his entire starting lineup.
The ploy did not originally take hold, as Egee drained a trey to make the score 18-8. However, the Tar Heels’ next two possessions resulted in five points, all from Bobby Frasor, and then Alex Stepheson slammed one home to make the score 18-15. At that point, UNC re-inserted the five starters, and the Heels played inspired ball after that they scored seven more unanswered point to take a 22-18 lead, and the run did not stop until they had built up a 35-22 advantage. In all, the run was 27-4 over the Quakers.
Penn was able to right the ship the rest of the half, and were within single digits at the break thanks to five straight Jaaber points.
Penn was still within 10 points with 18 minutes to play, but Ellington hit a three and then another jumper a few minutes later to give the Heels a 16-point lead. Penn continued to match UNC despite running numerous players in and out of the game on the night, 11 different Penn players scored.
Penn will remain on Tobacco Road through the weekend, as the Quakers take on Elon University Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.