When No. 5 Villanova took an eight-point lead midway through the first half on Saturday night, the sold-out Palestra was as silent as it had been all game. The fans could sense the Wildcats were about to break the game wide open.
But as the crowd thought Penn basketball’s Big 5 rivals were preparing to bury the Quakers, the Red and Blue came alive. And so did the Penn faithful in the packed arena.
Yet despite seeing their first half lead reduced to just two points at the break and hanging on for much of the second half, Villanova possessed too much firepower for the Quakers to handle, handing Penn its 11th consecutive Big 5 defeat, 62-47.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright picked up on the atmosphere of the Palestra as the Red and Blue hung with one of the nation’s elite squads.
“There’s a distinct roar here when an underdog ties or takes the lead,” Wright said. “I don’t know if I can explain it, but when I hear it, I know it.”
It seemed as if every time Villanova (17-1) had a chance to pull away, freshman guard Antonio Woods would come up with a clutch basket to keep Penn (4-9) right in it. The rookie finished with 18 points on seven-for-twelve shooting, hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc before missing two desperation treys towards the end of the 15-point loss.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win for about 32 minutes and 30 seconds,” Penn coach Jerome Allen noted.
Woods handled the ball for most of the game, partially due to junior Tony Hicks’ foul trouble as well as starting guard Darnell Foreman’s ineffectiveness early in the game.
Fellow freshman Mike Auger contributed significant help on the glass for the Quakers, finishing with a team high nine rebounds.
With nine minutes to go, the Wildcats extended their lead to six and never looked back. While Penn maintained its pressure and never lost hope, the squad’s inspired play and lockdown defense couldn’t keep them alive.
Villanova also allowed the Quakers to stay in the game as a result of a lack of offensive consistency. In the first half, the Wildcats only shot 30 percent from the field to the Quakers’ 45 percent and made only one of six free throw attempts.
While junior center Darien Nelson-Henry held his own down low on both sides of the floor, it was the second half emergence of his counterpart — junior forward Daniel Ochefu — that allowed Villanova to finally pull away.
The star finished with 21 points in only 25 minutes and consistently found his way to the hoop in the second half.
The Wildcats attempted only four three-pointers in the second half — a stark contrast to Villanova’s 14 first half three-point attempts. However, two clutch shots by Ryan Arcidiacono were key down the stretch.
“The Big 5 games for us are of similar intensity to Big East games,” Wright said, noting that these games help him prepare his teams for conference play. “These games are awesome.
“Everyone from the Northeast knows they’re going to the Palestra and that place is going to be sold out. We take great pride in being a part of it.”
Despite falling for the fourth time in five games, the Red and Blue should have little trouble putting this loss behind them. Penn will next be in action against Monmouth on Wednesday at the Palestra.Comments powered by Disqus
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