PHILADELPHIA - When David Whitehurst drained a three-point field goal with just more than 12 minutes remaining in regulation, the University of Pennsylvania men's basketball team took a 13-point lead over Siena and the Red and Blue Crew was rocking The Palestra.
The game was far from over.
The Saints,playing their first game for their new head coach --former Quaker Fran McCaffery -- gave Penn all it could handle Monday night, but ultimately the Quakers held fast for an 82-77 win.
Ibrahim Jaaber, a preseason Mid-Major All-America selection, lived up to the billing; he scored a game-high 24 points, grabbed nine rebounds and came up with five steals. The surprise for Penn? David Whitehurst. The sophomore guard, who was hampered during the preseason by an injury, came off the bench and drained 18 points in 19 minutes.
Penn (1-0) was also led by Steve Danley's first collegiate double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) and 11 points and five assists from senior captain Eric Osmundson.
"I think thatIbrahim did a great job with nine rebounds," said Penn head coach Fran Dunphy. "For him to do that in the guard spot was great."
Siena (0-1) used a 12-2 run early in the game to silence a boisterous Palestra crowd, as Tay Fisher knocked down the first two of what would be six treys in the game (on 11 attempts). Penn freshman Tommy McMahon brought the crowd back, though, sandwiching a pair of threes around a Whitehurst layup that tied the game at 17. A seven-point run by Siena late in the half made the score 30-23 in the Saints favor, but that streak was overcome by a 10-point Penn run, punctuated by a pair Danley layups, a steal and dunk by Jaaber, and a trey by Whitehurst. That ended the half, and put Penn up 33-30 as the teams went to the locker room.
Penn quickly upped its lead to nine to start the second stanza as Jaaber knocked down two threes and converted a steal for a personal 8-2 run.
"Today, once I got started, I got a little more confidence, more comfortable," said Jaaber of his start to the second half. "I think the ball just fell into my hands at the right time, and I made a few shots"
Siena roared back with seven straight points when David Ryan knocked down a pair of three-pointers and Kenny Hasbrouck drained a free throw to make the score 44-42. Penn responded again, this time with 11 points over a stretch of two minutes that was capped by Whitehurst's trifecta.
The lead hovered near double digits for several minutes after that, but with just less than nine minutes to play Siena crept back. Antoine Jordan hit a layup to make the score 63-58, and then nearly three minutes went by before either team scored (when the Saints' Hasbrouck hit a pair of free throws). Osmundson matched the Hasbrouck free throws, but then Jordan hit a jumper and Kojo Mensah had a steal and layup that made the score 65-64 with more than five minutes to play.
Out of a timeout, Osmundson hit a layup, and after Hasbrouck missed a free throw Jaaber floated a jumper in the lane to make the score 69-64 with four minutes to play. Ryan hit a pair of free throws for Siena, but those were answered on a layup by Friedrich Ebede. However, Fisher struck again from beyond the arc, making the score 71-69 with two minutes to play.
Danley hit a pair of critical foul shots for Penn, and then after a turnover by Jordan he hit a jumper that pushed Penn's lead back to 75-69. Siena got as close as three points in the final seconds, but Whitehurst hit a pair of free throws in the final few seconds to end things.
Penn is back in action Saturday afternoon, taking on neighborhood rival Drexel at 4 p.m. in The Palestra.