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Drexel discovered a new dimension to Ugonna Onyekwe's game last night - the three-point shot. The Penn forward buried three of Penn's program-record 16 threes. [Claire Laver/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

Oh how far away the 2000-2001 season now seems.

In last year's Palestra opener, the Penn men's basketball team led city rival La Salle by eight points with 1:17 left in the game.

In this year's Palestra opener, the Quakers found themselves in an eerily similar situation, leading city rival Drexel by eight points with 1:17 left in the game.

Last year, the Explorers stormed back in the game's final minute, scoring 10 unanswered points to shock all those in attendance and hand Penn it's fifth straight loss en route to a woeful 0-8 start.

This year, there would be no such late-game collapse.

The Quakers sunk their free throws down the stretch to hold on for a 89-80 win over the Dragons (1-3) last night. It was Penn's third straight victory in this 2001-02 season, a season that has so far made last year's 12-17 record seem miles away.

"This year, this is a different group," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "I just think they're a more confident group in knowing how to finish games.

"We learned some more things about ourselves [last night]."

One of the things the Quakers (4-1) learned was how to respond to adversity. After knocking off three NCAA Tournament teams in its opening week, Penn found itself struggling early against a younger, smaller and less experienced Drexel squad. The Quakers went into halftime down a bucket, 36-34.

But the Red and Blue came out of the locker room on fire, shooting a superb 66.7 percent from the field and an insane 71.4 percent from three-point range.

The Quakers moved the ball well, scored some baskets in transition and gave Philly native and first-year Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint a nice welcome-home present in the form of 55 second-half points.

"I'd love to tell you it was my dynamic halftime speech that got these guys fired up," Dunphy said. "I said the key to the game in the second half was that we would slow things down and not play at that fast a pace. We had a 55-point second half, so you know that I don't have a clue what I'm talking about."

What Dunphy does know, however, is that Penn will not be able to hit 16 three-pointers every game, and that's what has the Quakers' long-time head coach concerned. Despite Penn's second-half offensive explosion, Dunphy was quick to point out some of the flaws of last night's game, the same problems that have plagued his team throughout the early portion of its schedule.

"I just think we made shots again. We're counting on that way much," he said. "Our rebounding was not very good. I don't think we're beating people to the ball very often, and when we do, we give it up."

The Quakers were outrebounded, 45-31, last night, and were especially crushed on the offensive boards. Drexel notched 20 offensive rebounds, many of which resulted in second-chance baskets.

Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe, who terrorized the opposition in Las Vegas last weekend, had a good night scoring-wise, going for 20 points, second only on the team to Jeff Schiffner, who scored a career-high 23 points. But it was the little things on the stat sheet that had Dunphy perturbed about the play of his star forward.

Onyekwe played 21 minutes due to foul trouble, pulled down just four rebounds and shot an abysmal 1-of-6 from the free throw line, bringing back painful memories of last season.

"He's got to stay out of foul trouble and he's got to do a better job on the defensive rebounding part," Dunphy said. "I've got to get these guys to pay attention to that detail a little bit more."

But when shots are falling from all over the court, it's a little bit harder to pay attention to detail.

Four of Penn's five starters -- Onyekwe, Schiffner, point guard Andy Toole and forward Koko Archibong -- scored in double figures. Combined, the quartet shot a lethal 27-of-43 from the field and 14-of-20 from downtown.

"There's not a lot of egos on our team," said Toole, who was a perfect 3-for-3 behind the arc. "It doesn't matter who scores the basket, as long as we score the basket."

Toole, a junior transfer, is a big reason why the Quakers have turned it around this season. Settling into his role of team leader and starting point guard, Toole dished out six assists and committed just two turnovers last night.

"Last year, I watched the way the guys interacted on the court... just the little things that we needed to be a good team," said Toole, who sat out all of last season due to transfer regulations. "Last year, we had a lot of talent, but we couldn't put it together."

Oh how far away the 2000-2001 season now seems.

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