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Photo: Ilana Wurman

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Already written off as bound for last place in the Ivy League, Penn basketball came oh-so-close to pulling off an upset on Yale that would have sent the conference into chaos.

Instead, chalk won out.

Two free throws by Javier Duren here, a dagger three-pointer by Jack Montague there, and the Bulldogs (21-8, 10-2 Ivy) ended up on top, 55-50, in a game that the Quakers (7-18, 2-9) led for 35:38.

The final stretch made that stat nothing more than a curiosity.

With 2:19 to go, Bulldogs guard Javier Duren was fouled on a drive, calmly sinking two free throws to put Yale ahead for the first time all night, 48-47.

After a Duren miss with 1:30 to go, the Quakers appeared to be in prime position to control the clock in the later stages.

Ivy Player of the Year contender Justin Sears put an end to that narrative, outmuscling past Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry to grab a clutch offensive rebound and immediately feeding guard Jack Montague for a dagger three-pointer that extended Yale’s lead to four points.

“In the guts of the game, I can see in Justin’s eyes he’s not going to be denied, and you’re literally going to have to hold him back to block him out,” Yale coach James Jones said. “He had that gleam in his eye, he went after [the rebound] with reckless abandonment because he knew he had to get the ball.”

Sears would later add a critical and-one over Nelson-Henry on a baseline drive, spoiling what had largely been a strong defensive effort by the Quakers junior.

“I kind of went for the up-fake, he got by me, I tried to make play on the ball and I didn’t make it,” Nelson-Henry said.

Penn coach Jerome Allen stuck with the same rotation that sparked his team to a second-half rally in a 75-69 loss to Brown on Friday, starting Sam Jones and Dan Dwyer in the forward positions instead of Louis and Nelson-Henry. Nelson-Henry received 18 minutes off the bench against the Bulldogs, while Louis never stepped on the floor.

“All in all, I thought in spurts everybody contributed to put us in position to win the game,” Allen said. “We just didn’t finish.”

After the final media timeout with 3:00 left, the Quakers shot 1-for-7 from the field, allowing what had been a tenuous 47-46 lead to slip away. The missed opportunities in the late stages included two empty trips to the free throw line.

But for the first time in their now-seven-game losing streak, the Quakers looked engaged from start to finish. There was no sleepy start to the game like what had occurred on Friday at Brown, when Penn allowed the Bears to build a 19-point lead.

The problem is, at this point, it is too late for efforts like that to make a huge dent in the standings. The Red and Blue have now lost to Yale six consecutive times, their longest losing streak to the Elis since an equally dismal stretch that started in 1913 and ended in 1916.

With three games left, all at home, the remaining drama will surround the Quakers’ quest to avoid finishing alone in last place in the Ancient Eight for the first time ever.

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