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Senior Jelani Williams attempts to dunk the ball during the away game against Bucknell on Nov. 14. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

The drought is over.

Penn men’s basketball gutted out a gritty 73-68 win against the Bucknell Bison, the first win in 617 days for the Quakers.

“Especially, what we have been through, with two trips and had a crazy delay, missed, canceled flights,” coach Steve Donahue said. “Just everything being so new to us all, to gather up and play again on the road and not feel sorry for ourselves and compete against a really good team, even though we didn’t play great, we competed at a high level, overcome the kid who gets crazy 30-some points. Just really happy for the guys. They worked extremely hard, were unselfish, and were not there yet, but I think a month or two of us getting back is really going to make us a good team.”

Penn (1-2) started the game strong with junior center Max Lorca-Lloyd winning the opening tip against Bucknell (0-2).

Senior guard Jelani Williams drew first blood in the game, sinking a shot behind the arc to give the Red and Blue a 3-0 lead. The lead would not last long, though, as the Bison fought back to gain a 7-5 lead with 15 minutes left in the half.

The Quakers would fight back to regain the lead off a pair of threes from sophomore guard Clark Slajchert and junior forward Michael Moshkovitz to pull to a 10-9 lead.

Penn would continue hitting three through the game, going 10-22 from behind the arc.

"I do think it is a strength of ours. We have been doing two things well in this three game stretch, shooting threes and shooting fouls,” Donahue said. “Today, without Jonah, our best shooter, they did a good job. Jelani is a good three point shooter. Clark Slajchert is a good three point shooter. Jordan is a good three point shooter. Michael Moshkovitz, Michael Wang. I think it is part of our makeup as we get going. I think we are a good three-point-shooting team.”

With under 10 minutes in the half, Williams came alive with a wide-open three at the top of the key, followed by a great defensive stop. The defensive stop was converted into a fast-break layup to give the Quakers a 25-21 lead.

A couple of minutes later, sophomore guard Jordan Dingle converted for a huge three to put the Red and Blue up 28-24. Dingle came up big in the game with a season-high 24 points in the game.

“Especially early, a little bit too aggressive at times, but you could see I want him to know that we got to let him go a little bit an be the guy, as all the other guys start to feel comfortable,” Donahue said. “More impressive, I think was down the stretch. I thought he played great defense. He played 35 minutes, and then we went to him three or four times in a row, and he really got great shots.”

The half would end with Quakers holding for the last shot, but junior guard Jonah Charles had his shot hit the rim. The Red and Blue held on to a slim 34-32 lead going into halftime. Dingle led with 11 points at the half, with Williams close behind with eight. 

Bucknell came out strong to start the second half, jumping out to a 47-43 lead behind senior guard Andrew Funk.

The Red and Blue would not give up easily, as they fought back off of great defensive and offensive plays to come back and tie the game at 43.

The second half continued the theme of a tightly contested game, with both teams exchanging baskets. It appeared that down the stretch, Dingle and Fink were exchanging great plays to keep both their teams in the game.

Penn began to pull away after a timeout with 11 minutes left, after leading the game 48-46. Williams drained a huge three to increase the 52-51.

With six minutes left in the game and the Quakers down by two, the score at 58-54, Williams standing at the top of the key, spotted an incredible alley-oop to Lorca-Lloyd, who slammed it in to bring the game within a deuce.

“That is a normal read," Williams said. “Lorca, our big guy, he got his shoulders behind their big and I saw had a little bit of open space so put it up by the rim. He's really athletic, and we work on that in practice, so I knew would get it, but that was those are the type of plays we need and moments, you know, get the momentum going in our direction.”

The play appeared to energize the Quakers as they began to take control of the game, going on a four-point run to lead the game 60-58. Dingle scored the following four points to give the Red and Blue a commanding 64-60 lead.

“I feel really confident,” Dingle said. “My teammates believe in me. My coaches believe in me. I work really hard at all of the things that we try to execute, so I have no doubts in any of my abilities down the stretch.”

The Bison were never out of the game, as they tried to claw back but were never able to make it, with the leadership from Williams keeping the Quakers composed to get their first win of the young season

“I think you for me being an elder statesman here, even though I haven’t played many games,” Williams said. “It is my job and my responsibility as a captain, as well, to, to make sure we stay grounded and play our game. We knew it was going to be back and forth. Bucknell is a good team; this is a tough place to play and get a win in. I pulled them in and made sure everyone took a deep breath, and we just continued to play through it.”

Penn will look to continue their momentum as they have their home opener against another in-state opponent, the Lafayette Leopards, on Tuesday,  Nov. 16  at 7 p.m.