PHILADELPHIA – Penn had been in this situation before. Tied game. A few seconds left on the clock. Coach Jerome Allen with a chance to draw up a play to give the Quakers the victory. And over the last two seasons, the Quakers had struggled to come through in the clutch.
Junior Tony Hicks, the Quakers’ go-to scorer, ended up with the ball in his hands as the clock neared zero, and just like recent years, he couldn’t seal the deal. His bank shot rimmed out as the clock struck zero.
And in overtime, just like recent years, Penn allowed a lesser opponent to sneak by for a victory. Delaware State defeated Penn, 77-75, after the Quakers couldn’t shut the door late in the second half.
With numerous opportunities to finish the Hornets off, Hicks instead faded down the stretch, his fellow classmate Darien Nelson-Henry provided no help, and the failures of old crept out of the Palestra walls.
“It was just a play that didn’t go down,” Hicks said of his shot at winning the contest in regulation.
Of course, on a night in which Hicks put up 31 points, he did drain his last shot of the night, a hail-mary three that made the Quakers’ loss look just a little less bad.
While the same problems remain with the Quakers’ ability to finish games, Allen saw plenty of positives to take away – the most important of which being that his team is ready to grow.
“These guys want to be coached,” Allen said.
In the first game of the season, Allen balanced his lineup between veterans like Hicks and Nelson-Henry with four freshmen.
And early on, it looked like allowing Hicks to set the tempo for the squad would pay off.
Hicks showed his trademark aggression throughout the contest, kicking it off early in the first half with a nice steal as well as a stretch where he drained two straight threes.
Penn went to half up by one on the shoulders of Hicks.
Hicks setting the right tone in his junior year was important, as 102 of the 225 possible minutes for Penn were played by freshmen.
And the freshmen matched Hicks’ frenetic pace for much of the contest. Freshmen Darnell Foreman and Antonio Woods, the two other players to walk the ball up in addition to Hicks, each showed signs of their bright futures.
Foreman was a terror on the defensive end, stealing two passes, and Antonio Woods showed strong scoring ability, finishing the night with 11 points. While Woods and Foreman made their fair share of mistakes on the night, they each showed a strong propensity for driving hard into the lane and making the right choose as to whether to pass the ball or finish themselves.
The two played well enough to draw praise from Allen.
“”I did like some of the things I saw from the young guys tonight,” Allen said.
The new energy, sparked by some combination of the amount of minutes from coach Jerome Allen’s freshmen to Hicks stepping into the leadership role, flowed over onto the offensive boards.
Penn’s rebounding over the last few years has been subpar, but on the night, the Quakers finished with 21 offensive rebounds, leading to 23 second-chance points.
Despite those improvements, in the end, it came down to the veterans. Before Hicks went up for the last second attempt to win the contest, Nelson-Henry had two lay-up opportunities that he failed to turn into points.
“We knew Nelson-Henry would draw a lot of attention,” Allen said. “To his credit, he didn’t force anything. He’s going to be fine.”
And, in Allen’s estimation, the team will be too.
“The best thing we have going for us is that we like one another,” Allen said.
For now, after a loss to a team that went 7-21 last season in a weak conference, that will have to do.