Tennessee has certainly not been kind to Penn's basketball teams this season.
The Red and Blue's two basketball programs have both traveled to the Volunteer State to take on SEC opponents over the past month. Unfortunately for Jerome Allen's squad, Monday's game had an eerily similar result as Penn women's basketball's matchup with Tennessee in late November.
Coming off a 13-day layoff following its last game before finals, the Quakers could not sustain an early motivated push against Vanderbilt. Despite a opening up a five-point lead midway through the first half, Penn found itself at the mercy of the Commodores' big men, unable to develop an inside game en route to a 79-50 defeat.
The loss was the Quakers' largest defeat of the season and their biggest since they fell to Harvard by 30 on Feb. 1.
Even before Monday's contest began, the Red and Blue knew that any chance at victory was contingent on limiting Vanderbilt's frontcourt, a unit dominated by sophomore center Damian Jones, senior forward James Siakam, and seven-foot tall sophomore forward Luke Kornet.
For a few minutes, it seemed like the Quakers (3-6) may be able to hang tough with Vanderbilt (8-3). Junior center Darien Nelson-Henry scored three quick points for Penn, and the two teams traded baskets for the first several minutes.
Although Jones and Siakam were virtually unstoppable from the get go, junior guard Tony Hicks kept the Red and Blue afloat and -- surprisingly -- in control.
After the two squads found themselves knotted up at seven with over 14 minutes left in the first half, a pair of threes from freshman Sam Jones and Hicks keyed an 8-3 run that put the Quakers ahead 15-10 with ten minutes left until halftime.
But that was the best Penn could do on Monday. Although freshman Antonio Woods hit a three of his own after Vanderbilt tied the game at 15, the Commodores went on a 15-4 run of their own to open up an eight-point lead with five minutes remaining until half.
At least in the first period, the Red and Blue refused to go quietly. Trailing 30-22 after Vanderbilt's run, seven straight points from Hicks kept Penn in the game.
But every time the Quakers decreased their deficit, the Commodores had an answer. Penn managed only one point over the final 4:32 of the half as Vanderbilt went into the break leading, 40-29.
Siakam and Jones completely dominated the first half of what turned out to be Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings' 300th career victory at the school. With sophomore forward Dylan Jones in foul trouble and Nelson-Henry unable to stop them, Siakam finished the game with 17 points and eight rebounds while Jones added 15 points and six boards of his own.
The second half was an absolute blitz from the Commodores. Within minutes, Vanderbilt had doubled its halftime lead while the Quakers -- who had only committed seven turnovers in the first period -- gave the ball away ten times after halftime.
Nelson-Henry entered Monday's matchup having notched double-doubles in consecutive games and double digits in points in his last five games, a key aspect of Penn's three-game winning streak. For the Quakers to have a chance in Nashville, the big man needed to have a similarly dominant effort against the Commodores.
He didn't. The center finished with only nine points and four rebounds.
After scoring 13 points to keep Penn in the game in the first half, Hicks managed only one field goal in the second period to finish with 16 points. Sophomore Matt Howard added 11.
The Quakers' winning streak entering Monday's game was the team's longest nonconference stretch without a loss since the 2006-07 season. Now, Penn will need to regroup before two playing two of its most staunch opponents of the season: La Salle on Dec. 30 and Princeton on Jan. 10.
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