PHILADELPHIA - The University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team had dueled with Princeton to a 32-32 halftime tie and led by two, 47-45, after Henry Brooks hit a jumper with 10 minutes remaining. Everything up to that point indicated that the game was going to go down to the wire until a field goal drought of nearly five minutes allowed the Tigers to establish a lead by the eight-minute mark and Penn never led again. A late run from Princeton made the final a deceiving 71-58. The Quakers end the season at 9-22 (6-8 Ivy).
With Penn playing their last game of the season and Princeton having been eliminated from NCAA contention with two losses over the weekend, a flat, listless start could have been expected. Instead, both teams looked inspired in the opening minutes. The result wasn't always aesthetically pleasing, but the hustle and desire on both ends were evident.
Darien Nelson-Henry had the first point of the game on a free throw nearly two minutes in, but it was nearly five full minutes into the contest before Penn connected on a field goal. Nelson-Henry read a backdoor cut from Ian Hummer and met the Princeton senior at the rim. The resulting block and loose ball led to a run-out that Tony Hicks converted on the other end for a 3-2 lead. Those two points were the beginning of a stretch where Hicks scored 11 straight points in any fashion he conceived - at the rim, slashes to the lane, fadeaway jumpers and open looks from three-point range.
With the Princeton defense forced to focus on the perimeter, Hicks dished inside to Greg Louis who was fouled in the act of shooting. His soft touch at the line cut Princeton's lead to one. Moments later, Louis stripped Brendan Connolly near the half-court line and broke away from the pack for a thunderous dunk and a 16-15 Penn lead with 8:30 remaining in the opening half.
In the first half alone the game had four ties and six lead changes, much of the swings happening as the game neared halftime. With less than 90 seconds until the intermission, Hicks hit a layup with the foul. After connecting from the charity stripe for his 17th point of the first half, the game was tied up, 30-30. Miles Cartwright and Mack Darrow traded off field goals in the final minute to send the game into the break tied at 32-32.
The opening of the second half gave the impression that an end to the stalemate was nowhere in sight. Princeton took the lead on four occasions in the opening four minutes, only to see Penn fight back and tie the game each time. Two free throws by Hummer gave the Tigers a 42-40 edge, but he was answered by a triple from Hicks for the first Quaker lead of the second half at 43-42 with 14:57 remaining. Those would end up being the final points Hicks would score on the night.
On Princeton's next possession, Hummer was stripped by Jamal Lewis who went coast-to-coast to match Penn's largest lead of the evening at 45-42. That's when the Quaker scoring drought began. More than four minutes went by before Brooks would hit a jumper from the top of the key to give Penn a 47-45 lead with 10 minutes to go. He would then add one-of-two from the line to make it a 48-47 game with 8:29 to go. After missing the second, the Tigers gained possession and a Darrow trey gave Princeton a 50-48 advantage with exactly eight minutes to go that they would never relinquish.
When Cartwright fed Nelson-Henry for a layup with 5:33 to play, it snapped a field goal drought of almost five minutes and pulled Penn to within one possession for the final time. Another Princeton three-pointer, this one from T. J. Bray, immediately boosted the lead back to five and, after getting a stop, Hummer converted an and-one layup to make it 59-51.
Penn's last gasp came on a three from Patrick Lucas-Perry to cut the deficit to 59-54 with just over four minutes remaining. The Tigers responded with three consecutive field goals in the paint to have their lead reach double figures for the first time in the contest, 65-54. Brooks and Lewis scored four points within a minute to slice the Princeton lead to 65-58 with 1:30 to play, but yet another Darrow three - his third of the evening - was truly the dagger, putting the Tigers up by 10 with only a minute remaining. Three free throws down the stretch ended Penn's hopes of a comeback.
Princeton was led by Hummer's 18 points - 16 of which came in the second half. He was joined by three others in double figures: Bray (13), Darrow (11) and Will Barrett (11).
Hicks' 22 points were a game high, but he was the only Quaker in double figures in the contest. Brooks just missed out on a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds. Cartwright had six points but dished off seven assists, while Louis led the bench with seven points, including 5-of-6 from the line.