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Senior center Darien Nelson-Henry scored 13 points in Saturday's loss to Washington.

Credit: Thomas Munson , Thomas Munson

At this rate, Steve Donahue may never lose a game as Penn basketball’s coach.

For the third time in as many games in this young 2015-16 season, the Quakers picked up a hard-fought victory in a 60-54 win over Delaware State on Tuesday night. Whereas the Red and Blue (3-0) were paced by torrid three-point shooting in their first two games of the season, senior center Darien Nelson-Henry was the main impetus for Penn’s midweek win, notching 16 points while scoring in double figures for the third straight affair.

“Darien’s done a great job. He’s someone that we can throw it to on offense and he’s such a good defensive rebounder,” Donahue said. He’s just a really confident player right now, and he’s someone we can really rely on when we need a bucket or a rebound on the other end.”

Throughout the first half, the Hornets (0-2) didn’t give in to Penn’s high-octane offense, limiting the Quakers to 26 points in the period. On the night, the Red and Blue went a paltry 3-for-23 from beyond the arc, as sophomore forward Sam Jones — who entered the night averaging 22 points per game on 48 percent shooting from deep — scored only 10 points on 2-for-10 shooting on threes.

In a slow-moving opening frame, Delaware State jumped out to a 12-5 lead midway through the half, with Jones contributing all five of Penn’s early points. But over the course of the next eight minutes, the Quakers used a 15-7 run to take a 20-19 lead.

Though the two squads entered halftime tied, the Red and Blue wasted no time distancing themselves out of the break. Penn surged ahead on a 9-0 run to make it 35-26, but the Hornets managed to cut the Quakers’ lead down to 41-40 with under eight minutes to play.

“I told the guys, ‘Let’s embrace this challenge and go out, and I think if we get these shots in the second half we’ll make them, and if not let’s find a way to be gritty and get a win,’” Donahue said about his comments to the team at halftime. “And that’s what the guys did.”

From that point forward, the two teams went back and forth down to the wire. With the two teams tied at 49 with less than three minutes remaining, Nelson-Henry scored with one second left on the shot clock to give Penn a 51-49 lead. After the Hornets went ahead, 52-51, on a three-point play, the Quakers took the lead for good as consecutive baskets from junior Matt Howard and Nelson-Henry made it 55-52.

After Jones missed a three with under a minute to play, a tip-in by Howard proved to be the backbreaker, giving Penn a five-point lead with 36 seconds remaining. From that point forward, the Quakers forced a third straight miss by Delaware State before sealing the game at the free-throw line. With the victory, the Quakers avenged a 77-75 season-opening overtime loss at the Palestra a season ago.

While Penn hasn’t played the toughest of foes in the first week of its 2015-16 campaign, it’s undeniable the impact that Nelson-Henry has had within Donahue’s offensive scheme. Despite the fact that the Hornets played a relatively smaller lineup throughout the game on Tuesday, the veteran from Kirkland, Wash., scored his 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the field.

Across the board, the Quakers managed to weather a difficult environment in Delaware State’s gym while also adapting to their struggles from deep. After only converting two of 15 threes in the first half, Penn connected on 11 of its 14 shots from inside the arc in the second period.

“We had a lot of open threes that we did not make. What I liked is that we didn’t settle for that in the second half,” Donahue said. “We just managed to execute in the second half. It’s good to go on the road, not play great yet figure out a way to win the game.”

Now with its first 3-0 start since 1981-82 under its belt, the Red and Blue now turn their attention to their biggest test of the young season: A 2,800-mile trip to Seattle and a date with Pac-12 opponent Washington on Saturday.

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