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Freshman guard Jake Silpe made the most of the opportunity opened up by Antonio Woods' absence from Penn basketball, recording 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Princeton on Saturday.

Credit: Ananya Chandra

For a rivalry so old, Saturday’s Penn-Princeton basketball matchup featured a whole lot of new faces.

The Tigers took down the Quakers, 73-71, in a hotly contested overtime battle at the Palestra. 28 points from sophomore guard Amir Bell and missed buzzer-beating layups from Darien Nelson-Henry and Darnell Foreman keyed the Orange and Black’s Ivy play-opening victory.

The Red and Blue (6-8, 0-1 Ivy) — playing without former star Antonio Woods — relied heavily on new cast of characters. Freshman guard Jake Silpe (11 points, seven assists) took on much of Woods’ offensive burden while classmates Jackson Donahue (16 points) and Tyler Hamilton also saw significant minutes.

“I’m extremely disappointed, especially after the week we’ve had,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “But in life, if you never learn from failure, you’ll never be a success.”

Woods was announced to be academically ineligible to play earlier Saturday, and he will not be able to re-enroll at the University until the spring of 2017.

The Quakers experienced an up-and-down first half in which Darien Nelson-Henry scored nine points — including his second three-pointer of the season. However, the Red and Blue suffered through a scoreless drought of nearly seven minutes towards the end of the period, resulting in a 13-0 run which gave the Tigers (10-4, 1-0) a 36-29 advantage going into intermission.

Throughout the game, Penn was hampered by both the quantity and quality of its free-throw shooting. Princeton got to the line 30 times, converting 73 percent, while the Quakers were only 4-for-11 on the night. The Red and Blue actually managed to shoot more efficiently from three-point range than from the free-throw line, shooting 39 percent to 36.

“Free throws and getting to the line really saved us,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “And they missed some wide open shots.”

In the second half, on the strength of Silpe’s ball handling, Hamilton and Donahue’s three-point shooting and an emphatic put-back dunk, the Red and Blue came streaking back. An extended offensive run put the Quakers up 64-53 with 3:38 remaining.

However, the Tigers responded with a much-needed burst of their own. Princeton closed the half with a 13-2 run, tying the game at 66. A layup attempt by Nelson-Henry rimmed out at the buzzer sounded, sending the two teams to overtime.

“I’m really proud of our team. Two years ago, we came down here and took a really, really difficult loss,” Henderson said, referring to a 77-74 nail-biter in January 2014.

“This was a really resilient group. The difference was that they believed.”

Bell, whose 28 points were a game high, sustained a facial injury in the final minutes of regulation, knocking him out of the game. But despite the absence of their offensive star, the Tigers pounced in overtime.

The Quakers, on the strength of a Darnell Foreman layup and Donahue three, jumped out to a 71-66 lead to open the bonus period. But the Tigers sealed the game from a place they were familiar with all night: the free-throw line. Seven unanswered points from the line — including four from freshman guard Myles Stephens, his only points of the night — gave Princeton a lead they would never relinquish.

Foreman’s game-tying layup as time expired didn’t fall, and the Red and Blue were dealt a frustrating loss.

“It was a great Penn-Princeton game at the Palestra,” Steve Donahue said. “We just couldn’t put them away when we were up 10 or 11. Give Princeton credit.”

Though disappointing, Saturday’s effort was a marked improvement for Penn over it’s last matchup with the Tigers, a 73-52 blowout last March in the final game of coach Jerome Allen’s Penn career. Considering the Red and Blue have since lost two of that squad’s leading scorers in Woods and Tony Hicks, the near-victory was a clear step forward for the program.

And much of that change has been brought about by fresh faces: Donahue, in his first year at the helm, relied heavily on three freshmen down the stretch.

But on Saturday, the Quakers failed to change the thing that matters most: the final score.

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