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Junior guard Tony Hicks led Penn basketball in scoring with 18 points but he couldn't find a basket at the very end, as the Quakers fell at Princeton, 78-74.

Credit: Ilana Wurman

Everything was in place for Penn basketball to set the tone for the remainder of Ivy League play, to capture a win over its biggest rival in an arena that has been a house of horrors for over half a decade.

But suddenly, the opportunity was gone. Slowly and steadily, it became clearer that the Red and Blue would not replicate their win against the Tigers from last January.

Despite building up a 15-point lead midway through the second half, Penn basketball let its Ivy League opener slip away on Saturday night, crumbling down the stretch and falling to Princeton, 78-74.

Due in large part to a 13-0 run that bridged the first and second halves, the Red and Blue seemed poised to steal their first win at Jadwin Gym since 2008-09. But the Tigers (7-9, 1-0 Ivy) managed to slowly pick away at the Quakers’ lead as Penn’s offense suddenly went missing, whittling a double-digit deficit into a three-point lead with four minutes remaining.

“I just think, offensively, we stopped play,” coach Jerome Allen said. “We got into a lot of one-on-one, we stopped screening and stopped being aggressive. They were tougher than we were.

“I thought that they started making shots, and we didn’t respond to it.”

With the score knotted at 67 apiece down the stretch, Princeton freshman guard Amir Bell hit a layup in transition and was fouled. After cashing in on the charity stripe, Penn scored four straight points of its own to recapture the lead with 3:02 to go.

Unfortunately for the Quakers, it was the final time the Red and Blue would lead on Saturday night. After two scoreless minutes, Princeton guard Henry Caruso hit two free throws with 1:01 remaining to give the Tigers the lead.

After junior guard Tony Hicks missed a three with 38 seconds to play, Princeton pushed its lead to three from the free-throw line with 22 seconds to play. Trailing by three, Allen didn’t call a timeout and allowed the Quakers to run their offense.

With 11 seconds left in the game, Hicks — who scored 18 points on seven of 16 shooting — attempted to tie the game. But he lost control of his three-point attempt and was whistled for a travel when he attempted to corral the loose ball. From there, the Tigers sealed the game from the charity stripe.

“It’s easy to look for excuses as to why you don’t get it done,” Allen said. “Everything starts with me, but with that being said, we came here to win.

“We simply didn’t get it done. We stopped playing.”

Given the first 28 minutes of play, the loss is difficult for Penn to swallow. Despite battling foul trouble throughout the entire first half, the Red and Blue vaulted ahead with six straight points before the half to take a 41-36 lead.

And the run didn’t end there. After Hicks’ 45-foot halfcourt buzzer beater to end the first period, the Red and Blue stayed hot in the second half, scoring the first seven points after the break to open up a 48-36 lead.

“The game is 40 minutes long and we knew that coming in, so I can’t praise them for how well they played in the first 30 minutes,” Allen said.

Penn was back in action on Tuesday night in one of the team’s final nonconference matchups of the season. On the road against Niagara — one of the only seven teams the Quakers took down in 2013-14 — Hicks notched 18 points for the second straight game to help the Red and Blue rebound from their crushing loss on Saturday with a 67-56 win.

The Red and Blue (4-8, 0-1) were boosted by 11 points from sophomore guard Matt Howard and 12 points from senior forward Greg Louis. A 15-3 run midway through the second half helped Penn overcome a poor shooting first half — the Quakers made only eight of 25 shots in the opening 20 minutes — and the squad clinched its second straight win over the Purple Eagles (3-12).

The Red and Blue will next be in action in their first home game since Dec. 9, taking on Villanova in their penultimate Big 5 game of the season Saturday at the Palestra.

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