PHILADELPHIA - A number of people predicted that Saturday night's men's basketball game between Penn and Villanova was a matchup of the two top teams in the city of Philadelphia.
Time will tell if that's true, but one thing is for certain -- both teams are certainly entertaining.
In a game that went back-and-forth, Villanova built up adouble-digit lead, watched Penn come back to take the lead, but recovered and earned a 99-89 win in front of a loud, near-capacity crowd of 8,458 at The Palestra.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright put it best afterward: "It was a hell of a basketball game."
"I'm never going to be upset with our team if we lose these games, or too excited if we win," he said. "These games are out of control. I talked to the five freshmen, I do this little Big 5 speech every year: whatever I tell you, when you get in the game, things are going to be crazy. It was unbelievable. We played great in the second half."
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for Penn (4-3), and was head coach Glen Miller's first loss in The Palestraas the Quakers' head coach.
"It certainly was a disappointing loss for us," he said. "We got off to a poor start, and had 17 turnovers in the first half. We showed a lot of courage, a lot of competitiveness to come back in the second half and go up 72-70. But offensively they have a lot of weapons, a lot of shooters, and it was hard for us to guard them."
Penn was led by Mark Zoller, who was simply outstanding offensively Saturday night. The senior forward scored a career-high 33 points, going 9-of-12 from the field (including 5-of-6 from three-point land) and hitting all 10 of his free throws. In the process, Zoller became the 34th player in Penn history to surpass the 1,000-point mark -- he did so with a trey just 10 minutes into the contest.
Ibrahim Jaaber scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, and also dished out seven assists while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. Brian Grandieri scored 14 points, while Steve Danley filled the box score with 11 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.
For Villanova (6-1), Curtis Sumpter showed that he was back in a big way. The senior -- who missed last year with a knee injury -- score 28 points. Mike Nardi knocked down 19 points, while Shane Clark had 16 and Scottie Reynolds added 11.
Two things stood out in the final box score that contributed mightily to Villanova's win -- Penn's turnover total (25) and the Wildcats' foul shooting (27-of-29, or 93.1 percent). That offset another great shooting night byPenn (26-of-45, 57.8 percent).
Villanova opened things up with a Sumpter dunk, but Penn responded with the next seven points to force Wildcats coach Jay Wright to call a timeout.
That seemed to calm Villanova down; the Wildcats, led by Nardi, drew even at 9-9, then jumped out to a 21-13 lead on the strength of eight-straight points by Sumpter. That lead eventually expanded to as much as 14 points on a pair of occasions, before the Quakers used a small run down the stretch to get within 47-40 at the half.
At that point, Zoller had 22 points and had hit all five of his three-point shots (and 8-of-10 overall). At the other end, Sumpter had nearly matched those numbers with 17 of his own.
Villanova's lead continued to hold until midway into the second half. Down, 68-61, Penn got the Palestra crowd revved up when Grandieri and Zoller hit layups, and then Zoller hit three foul shots (on separate possessions) to tie the game up. A Nardi layup was matched by two more Zoller foul shots, and then Grandieri sent the crowd into a frenzy with 9:36 to play when he hit two more foul shots to give Penn its first lead since 9-6.
Villanova responded. Scottie Reynolds hit a trey to get the lead back, and then after a Tommy McMahon foul shot tied it up Shane Clark scored four-straight points to give the Wildcats a 77-73 lead with six minutes to play.
Penn got one of those points back on a McMahon free throw, but Reynolds completed a conventional three-point play and then Will Sheridan hit a pair of free throws to up Villanova's lead to 82-74. The Quakers got no closer than five points after that.
Villanova did not miss a foul shot until just 25 seconds were left in the game; to that point, the Wildcats had hit all 23 of their free throws.
Penn is back in action Thursday at Navy. Tipoff time is set for 8 p.m., and the game will air nationally on College Sports Television (CSTV).