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For the third straight game to start the 2014-15 season, Penn basketball got off to a slow start.

And despite a furious second-half rally, the Quakers fell to 0-3 on the year, losing to Lafayette, 83-77, to finish a three-game season-opening homestand.

The first half was all Leopards (3-1) from the start. The Quakers turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions, prompting an early timeout from coach Jerome Allen.

“I was disappointed by how we approached the start of the game, not really having the posture like they were ready to compete, ” Allen said.

From there, Lafayette found success, particularly outside the paint. The Leopards shot 59.3 percent from the field in the first half, answering with a jumper each time Penn got close.

It was a pair of seniors that did the majority of the damage with forward Dan Trist playing well inside the arc and guard Joey Ptasinski making his mark outside, hitting three first-half threes. The two combined for 26 points in the opening frame.

Meanwhile, junior captain Tony Hicks kept Penn in the game. The guard hit a couple early midrange jumpers before finding a rhythm with fellow junior Darien Nelson-Henry to rack up a few assists.

Down 45-30 at the half, the Quakers quickly rebounded, using Hicks as a facilitator to get the offense going. After the team hit no three-pointers in the first half, the triples were plentiful in the second frame, with six falling for the Red and Blue.

Hicks finished with 13 assists – tying a program record – while hitting two threes. His presence also helped freshman Antonio Woods get open looks, as the freshman guard scored 11 points, something that impressed Allen.

“All of the guys on the floor looked like they were playing for one another,” Allen said. “I ride Tony all the time: He had 13 assists and two turnovers. What can I say about that in terms of his overall effort and getting guys involved.”

But it was a man who played inside the arc that made the biggest difference in bringing Penn back into the game.

Freshman forward Mike Auger, playing just the third game of his college career, was tenacious on the offensive glass, corralling five offensive boards and nine total for the game. He contributed a team-high 18 points on an efficient 7-for-10 shooting

“I thought he was phenomenal,” Allen said. “He went after every offensive rebound ... Some of the mistakes he made I can live with because his effort and energy are always present.

“He brought us a lot in the second half, just with his relentlessness, whether it was at the top of the press or whether it was going after every live ball.”

A one-handed dunk by Auger brought Penn to within two points, 62-60, and the Palestra crowd to its feet with under 10 minutes to go. But the momentum shifted soon after, as the Quakers simply couldn’t tie the game.

“We never took the lead, so I think that was the most important thing to let the guys know that we were still losing and we have to stay composed,” Hicks said. “[The younger players] got overjoyed by the fact that we came back, but instead we need to stay focused.”

The Quakers got three straight stops defensively but their offense stagnated, failing to score for over five minutes.

By the time Penn scored again, the Leopards had put it out of reach. Yet this time, it was a junior, not a senior, who did the damage for Lafayette.

Junior guard Zach Rufer, who was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, hit a clutch three-pointer to put the Leopards up seven with just over five minutes to go. And after Nelson-Henry made a shot from the free-throw line — one of his 13 points — Trist and Rufer each hit layups to extend the lead to double digits.

Lafayette finished the game out with free throws, as senior forward Seth Hinrichs, the Leopards’ leading scorer from a year ago, made up for a poor night from the field by going 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.

Trist and Ptasinski had 22 and 18 points, respectively while sophomore guard Nick Lindner had nine points and six assists.

The win was particularly sweet for Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon was an assistant coach at Penn when Allen was a player and the long-time Leopards coach has now won two straight at the Palestra.

“I have such respect for Coach Allen,” O’Hanlon said. “I loved coaching him, he was a terrific player and he is an even better man.

“That team [Penn] is going to be very good.”

The Quakers will look for their first win of the year against Big 5 rival Temple when they head on the road on Tuesday.

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