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Penn can't stop Lafayette

The head coaches, both former Penn assistants, watched as the Quakers fell behind early and lost, 92-86.


- Fran O'Hanlon and Steve Donahue coached for five years together at Penn and another year before that at Bonner. After they parlayed all that 1990s success at Penn under Fran Dunphy into what O'Hanlon jokingly called "the worst jobs in Division I at the time," O'Hanlon's Lafayette team played Donahue's Cornell team a few times and neither man was particularly comfortable. So they called it off.

When Donahue got the Penn job last spring, he was hoping O'Hanlon would not want to continue Lafayette's long series with the Quakers. But "Coach O" still wants his team to play in the Palestra every other season. So, the best friends are playing against each other's teams again.

Lafayette and Penn combined for 178 points in a game the Leopards led from the start. This result made perfect sense. La Salle beat Lafayette 83-75 on Monday; Penn beat La Salle 80-64 on Wednesday; Lafayette beat Penn 92-86 on Sunday.

Such is college basketball life in the final full week of November. What happened last has little to do with happens next. Matchups and mindset determine results more than history, recent or remote. And homecourt always matters. The winners were all home.

And the coaches were on opposite benches again.

"It's bittersweet because we probably don't have a job anywhere if Jerome (Allen) wasn't such a good player," O'Hanlon said.

When Allen was let go as Penn's coach last March, Donahue was the obvious choice to replace him.

"When Jerome didn't come back, it was great to see that Steve got the job," O'Hanlon said before explaining that Donahue only has himself to blame for messing up the Penn/Princeton Ivy League dominance.

It was Cornell's Ivy run that seemed to get Harvard interested and changed the balance of Ivy power, possibly forever.

Lafayette, playing at its Kirby Sports Center for just the second time this season and playing like a proud bunch that had been embarrassed at Princeton four days before, 104-52, and wanted to do something about it, jumped the Quakers at the start and never really let them get into any kind of rhythm.

There were few early whistles, the ball and players moving at a dizzying pace and Penn, playing like a team that perhaps was still thinking it was back at the Palestra blowing away La Salle, was being buried under a basketball avalanche.

It was 20-9 after 6 1/2 minutes. Lafayette (2-4) went cold, Penn (4-2) got it closer with several chances to get it close to even. Then, the Leopards got really hot, scoring on nine of 10 possessions before Penn's Darnell Foreman hit a three at the halftime buzzer, Penn's first good three after 11 misses, to make the score 46-31

The second half began just like the first, except in reverse. It was the Quakers flowing downcourt smoothly, getting whatever shot they wanted, the Leopards looking disjointed. The good thing about a huge lead is lulls are rarely fatal. And they were not in this case. Penn closed quickly to 50-43, but fell behind by 17 again, still trailed by 14 with 70 seconds left and made the final score closer than the game with a very late flurry.

"We don't have a pedigree of success yet to understand how difficult this game is going to be," Donahue said.

Lafayette shot 52.2 percent. The Leopards got 22 points each from Nick Lindner (Germantown Academy) and backcourt partner Bryce Scott. Lindner especially was a problem.

"He was very confident," Donahue said. "When they needed a bucket, he either got it or found somebody to get it."

So was that blowout loss at Princeton a problem.

"The second I looked at the Princeton-Lafayette score, I was worried," Donahue said.

That was Lafayette's third game in five days, all on the road - NJIT, La Salle and Princeton.

"I don't know that we had a whole lot left in the tank on Wednesday, that's not to make excuses, but that's just the reality," O'Hanlon said.

The Leopards had a lot for Penn. The Quakers, who got 20 points from Darien Nelson-Henry, 17 from Antonio Woods and 15 from Matt Howard, are better, but not so much better than they can't come ready.

"We were not ready to go early, that's all of us," Donahue said.

That the Quakers shot 57.1 percent in the second half and played to the finish line is a positive sign for down the road. But Sunday was Lafayette's day.