DALLAS - As usual, the 32 first-round games of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament featured a lot of fantastic finishes, upsets and down-to-the-wire action.
The University of Pennsylvania nearly put quite an exclamation point on the first two days.
Playing in one of the final first-round games on Friday night, the Quakers -- seeded 15th in the Atlanta Regional -- led second-seeded Texas at the American Airlines Center 23-22 at halftime, trailed by just one with six minutes to play and had a chance to take the lead when Eric Osmundson went up for a three-point attempt with 5:30 remaining.
Unfortunately, Osmundson's shot was off, and on the Longhorns' ensuing possession Daniel Gibson drove the lane and hit a layup. Mark Zoller was up next, missing a jumper, and once again Gibson took advantage at the other end with a fast-break layup.
That made the score 45-40, and set Texas off on what would end up as a 10-2 run. As the clock neared midnight on the East Coast, Penn's Cinderella bid turned into a pumpkin as the Longhorns pulled away for a 60-52 decision.
Texas (28-6) will meet N.C. State in the second round Sunday; the 10th-seeded Wolfpack knocked off California in Friday night's first game.
For Penn (20-9), Ibrahim Jaaber scored 15 points but was 5-of-19 from the field, by far his worst shooting performance of the season. In fact, Friday's affair was an ugly one offensively for both teams, as the Quakers shot 32.1 percent from the field (17-53) and the Longhorns rallied to get to 40 percent (18-45) only with a flurry of makes down the stretch.
Zoller finished with 13 points, while Osmundson had 10 and Brian Grandieri nine.
As expected, Texas went inside early on, as LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, 10 rebounds) scored the Longhorns' first four field goals. However, Penn countered from the outside and stayed with their highly regarded opponent. Down, 13-8, with eight minutes left in the first half, the Quakers got back-to-back treys from Zoller and Grandieri that gave Penn the lead. Brad Buckman dialed long distance for Texas, before Jaaber scored what would be Penn's only two-point field goal of the first half (the Quakers knocked down six treys).
A layup by Texas' All-America guard P.J. Tucker (17 points, 12 rebounds) was countered by another Zoller trey, and a jumper by Mike Williams was answered by Zoller's third trifecta which gave Penn a 22-20 lead. Tucker briefly tied things with a jumper, but Jaaber hit one of two free throws with six seconds left that sent the teams to the locker room with the Quakers leading, 23-22.
Texas appeared to come out with more purpose in the second half, boosted by a supportive crowd (Dallas is just a three-hour drive from Austin). Gibson got the half started with a three-pointer, but David Whitehurst tied things up again with a jumper. Texas scored the next six points, however, and never trailed again.
Penn stuck around. Bolstered by a 9-3 run, the Quakers were down just 41-40 with 6:38 to play when Grandieri put back a layup off an Ibrahim miss in traffic. Tucker missed a jumper at the other end, and after a timeout Osmundson found himself open for a trey on the left wing. Gibson responded with his two layups, and Penn would not get closer than five after Texas' 6-0 run.
Texas' size wore Penn down -- the Longhorns outrebounded the Quakers, 42-21. In addition, Texas was able to keep Penn at bay down the stretch by hitting its free throws; the 'Horns were 22-of-26 (84.6 percent) on the night.