Penn's basketball team took the floor at the Palestra last night intending to beat Elon University in a nonleague game and earn a second straight win for the first time this season.
It almost didn't happen.
Elon kept the pressure on Penn and rallied from a 10-point deficit, but the Quakers prevailed, 67-64, when Phoenix guard Montell Watson missed a three-point attempt from about 30 feet as the final seconds ticked away.
Freshman Tyler Bernardini, who led the Quakers with 23 points, scored his team's last three points from the foul line over the final 17 seconds. A three-point jumper by Watson had cut his team's deficit to 66-64 with 4.7 seconds to go.
"We had trouble shaking them," said Penn coach Glenn Miller, whose team improved to 4-7. "We made bad decisions and came up empty on possessions too many times in a row. But we have a modest two-game winning streak and are showing improvement. And it's going to make the holidays happy."
Penn visited Elon in North Carolina last year in the teams' first meeting. The Quakers came away with a 66-64 decision, marking the start of a turnaround that carried them to their third straight Ivy League title.
Penn played last night for the first time since a 69-61 victory against Monmouth on Dec. 8. That ended a three-game losing streak, including road games against Lafayette and Villanova along with a matchup against top-rated North Carolina at the Palestra.
The Quakers' next game will be Dec. 29 at Florida Gulf Coast. They also will play Miami, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, La Salle, St. Joseph's and Temple before opening Ivy play against visiting Harvard on Feb. 1.
Elon (5-6) was coming off a 58-45 loss at Tennessee-Chattanooga on Dec. 18. The Phoenix are much like Penn, with a roster dominated by underclassmen.
The Southern Conference team held a 36-35 lead at intermission last night after a back-and-forth first half.
Penn was ahead by 52-42 with 9 minutes, 28 seconds left. Elon forward Ola Atoyebi, who scored nine of his 11 points during one six-minute stretch, led the Phoenix' late rally. Elon's top scorer was guard Brett James, with 14 points.
"We created a very small window to be successful, down 10 and needing a push to win the game, and we almost did it," Elon coach Ernie Nestor said. "We could have won that basketball game tonight. We thought it would be a competitive game, and we had our opportunities down the stretch."
About eight minutes into the game, the score was knotted at 13. But after Elon scored five straight points a few minutes later, Penn was looking at a 21-17 deficit with 7:11 remaining in the first half.
With Elon's advantage at 30-25, the Quakers closed the gap. A pair of free throws by freshman Conor Turley with 15.4 seconds left put Penn up by 35-34.
With plenty of time to get off a shot before the buzzer, Elon got the ball to 6-foot-8 Adam Constantine. The sophomore, who was stationed on the right baseline, spun toward the hoop and made a five-foot runner as the half ended.