ORLANDO, FLA. - The Penn basketball team's woes are multiplying. Central Florida's Jermain Taylor certainly cracked the list last night.
Taylor had 34 points in 26 minutes and marshaled a second-half burst to pull the Knights away from the Quakers, 81-64, on the opening night of the UCF Holiday Classic.
The Quakers (1-7) were coming off a 24-day layoff, their longest in school history. They showed energy they had lacked in previous games, beating back a seven-point deficit to take a 28-27 lead with five minutes left in the first half.
But Taylor proved too much for the Penn defense. He was rarely left alone, but he blew by or outmuscled his man as the need arose. Central Florida (7-4) led by 35-32 at the break.
Looking for size at the guard spot to try to stay with Taylor, Penn started rookie Rob Belcore, the team's ninth starter this season. Belcore played 30 minutes but struggled to contain Taylor.
"He made shots that pros can make," Penn coach Glen Miller said of Taylor. "Hand in his face, falling away."
Things got only better for Central Florida, which has yet to lose on its own floor. Taylor made 7 of 9 shots in the second half, which disappointed Miller the most.
"In the first half he had 16 points, but the points were hard and tough," the coach said. "In the second half, we lost him, and he got easier shots."
UCF freshman A.J. Rompza added seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Tony Davis, Isaac Sosa and Chris Baez all made second-half threes to pad the lead.
"I was impressed with the way our guys took on the challenge once we got in the heart of the game," Central Florida coach Kirk Speraw said. "We made three, four, five extra passes, got it inside and got it back out."
Frustration boiled over for Penn as its fifth straight loss closed out. Jack Eggleston picked up a hard foul for his fifth, and he took it out on the Central Florida fans by pacing up and down near the bench, twice pretending to sit down to throw off the rhythm of their taunts.
"I was getting frustrated. Just a way to vent, I guess," he said. The Quakers' strong start "shows a little bit of progress, but it's the end result that matters. You could be up 30, but it still wouldn't matter if it ends in a loss."
In the end, Penn's long layoff seemed to bring more bad news than good. Andreas Schreiber reaggravated a shoulder injury in practice and will miss the rest of the season. Darren Smith will miss his second consecutive season after complications from knee surgery, and Tommy McMahon left the program because of his injury issues.
Penn plays in today's consolation game at 4:30 p.m. against Campbell. UCF will face Chicago State at 7.