NEWARK, N.J. — A win is a win, even if it’s an ugly win.
Penn held NJIT to just 27.7 percent shooting from the field, a season-best for the Quakers’ defense, and they took a 54-53 victory at the Fleisher Center on Thursday night.
It was a historic night for the Red and Blue (3-13), as the win marked their 1,700th as a program.
The Quakers jumped out to a 7-0 start but gave up a 13-2 run to fall behind, 18-17, with just over three minutes left in the first half.
They ended the half up, 27-22, and never looked back, holding the lead the entire second frame.
Following halftime, the Red and Blue took a commanding 49-39 lead with 4:32 left, but the Highlanders (9-9) fought back to tie the game up with 2:30 left thanks to a series of Penn turnovers. The Quakers had a season-high 26 turnovers.
Sophomore guard Patrick Lucas-Perry stepped up big and scored Penn’s last five points to seal the win. He dropped eight in the game overall.
Steve Rennard had a chance to put the game away with an open three as the shot clock expired with just 10 seconds left. But after his miss, Ky Howard of NJIT drove down the court and missed an easy lay-in. After a scramble for the ball, NJIT was unable to put up another shot.
Penn also dominated the glass, outrebounding NJIT, 41-24. Coming into the game, NJIT was 10th in the country in rebounds per game.
“Rebounding is a point that we were getting beat a lot earlier in the season,” freshman Darien Nelson-Henry said. “We started taking it personally, and I feel like lately, we’ve been doing a much better job.”
In his first career start, Nelson-Henry registered his first career double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
He and junior captain Miles Cartwright shared the team lead in points.
Chris Flores led the Highlanders with 22 points to go along with six steals.
After the game, Nelson-Henry was more focused on his five turnovers — tied with Cartwright for most on the team — than his double-double.
“We all just need to take a deep breath, calm down, and not rush ourselves,” he admitted.
Coach Jerome Allen agreed with Nelson-Henry’s assessment.
“I was overly disappointed with our inability to take care of the basketball,” he said.
Both Allen and Nelson-Henry were disappointed despite the victory.
“I’m not very happy with this win,” Allen said. “To be honest, this probably should have been a 20-point win.”
Allen expressed that he saw “not a whole lot” of positive things from his team tonight.
“We had stretches where we played solid defense,” he said. “But we just weren’t great today.”
The win marked Penn’s first since Nov. 28 over Binghamton and its first on the road this season.
The Quakers have a quick turnaround, as they will take on Big 5 foe St. Joe’s on Saturday at the Palestra. They’ve beaten the Hawks two years in a row.