If there were an odds-on favorite to put his team on his back on Tuesday night between Penn and Niagara, it would have been Niagara senior Antoine Mason.
Mason entered the contest averaged 31.2 points — and by the end of the night that average would barely drop at all — but it was a Penn player that lit the Palestra on fire.
Sophomore Tony Hicks went for 33 points on 12-for-20 shooting, allowing the Quakers to cruise to victory. Penn defeated Niagara, 85-66.
Hicks’ scoring surge moved him near the top of the Penn record books. The last time Penn had a player go for 33 in a game was Mark Zoller against Villanova in 2006.
By putting in such a strong performance, Hicks broke his own personal high as well, surpassing the 29 points he put up against Cornell last February.
On a night where Penn’s zone frustrated Mason and the Purple Eagles, Hicks was naturally able to take advantage.
Niagara shot just 37 percent from the field, and Penn consequently racked up numerous points in transition.
“We got stops,” Allen said. “A lot of them came in transition. Just getting out on the floor … It got a little easy. The first pass was there.”
Mason, the nation’s leading scorer going into the night, eventually got his, putting up 31 points, but he was only able to do it on 9-for-25 shooting.
Allen knew that stopping him would be a team effort.
“It wasn’t gonna be up to Miles [Cartwright] or Julian [Harrell],” Allen said. “We guard the basketball with five guys. It’s five guys’ responsibility to defend the basketball.”
While Penn was able to get out in transition, Niagara couldn’t, mostly because of Penn making the majority of its shots.
This held Mason in check, though he showed flashes of his strong abilities in transition.
While Hicks was naturally the story, Penn’s offense on the whole shot the ball better than it had all season. In its first four games, Penn posted a 42.1 shooting percentage. Tonight, it went over 50, draining 54 percent of its shots.
Junior Greg Louis received his first minutes of the season and performed well. He scored nine points and brought down six boards.
In addition, he pinned a Niagara shot attempt to the backboard with a great block early in the first half, kickstarting the Quakers and giving Penn the energy the team has needed early on in contests.
“I felt like that was a big energy shift in the game,” Louis said. “Those are the kind of plays that turn games a little bit. “
Going forward, Niagara couldn’t stop Penn’s transition game and couldn’t neutralize the Quakers by grabbing a significant number of offensive boards.
In fact, all of the problems that had arisen in the first four games of the season didn’t appear.
In a true team effort, the Quakers only turned the ball over 15 times, they won the rebounding battle, and they held Niagara to a poor shooting percentage.
“It’s everybody’s effort to box out, to get rebounds,” Hicks said. “And it’s really big for our confidence to know that we can get stops.”
Confidence is key for a Red and Blue squad that hadn’t won at home in three contests, as well as only winning three of their last nine at the Palestra.
Regardless of who the opponent was, the win gave the Quakers confidence.
And Hicks hopes that it gave Penn fans a little more faith as well.
“Our first home win, and it was a big win,” Hicks said. “Hopefully, it sent a message to the school, to our opponents.”
The Red and Blue enjoy a break over the Thanksgiving holiday, but they’ll be back in action on Saturday against Lafayette.
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