Tony Hicks finished with a game-high 28 points in Penn's season opening 78-73 loss to Temple. (USA Today Images)
With just under five minutes to play, his team on an 8-0 run and the Palestra getting progressively louder, Penn senior Miles Jackson-Cartwright walked over to the media table, addressed a reporter by name, and yelled:
"We ain't going nowhere!"
Just over three minutes later, the Quakers would take their first lead since the first half, going up by two with only 1:38 remaining.
They weren't going away. They just couldn't climb all the way back.
Despite a frenzied second-half rally, Penn fell to Temple, 78-73, in its season-opener at the Palestra Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
The loss came despite the best efforts of Penn sophomore Tony Hicks, who finished with a game-high 28 points on 12 for 24 shooting.
Hicks led all scorers with 14 at the half, and after Penn found itself trailing by as many as 15 in the second, he led the Quakers back on an 18-2 run to briefly retake the lead with 98 seconds to play. Hicks scored his team's final 10 points and fell just a foul shot short of his career-high.
"What do you want me to say?" Penn coach Jerome Allen asked, when asked to evaluate Hicks' performance. "He made some shots down the stretch.
"It's my job not necessarily to praise him. ... It's my responsibility not to get caught up in the numbers. Because there's only one number that matters: We are 0-1.
"And when he looks in the mirror, he's got to ask himself, 'What else could I have done to win the ballgame?'"
You know, probably not much. One fewer turnover? He had three. One more made three? He missed five of eight. But really, not much. This was more of the issue:
"We didn't play with the right sense of urgency for the first -- I'll say roughly -- 33 minutes," Allen said.
That was especially true coming out of the locker room, when Temple outscored Penn, 25-13, to take its largest lead of the game, 15 points, with 12:56 to play. For the next five minutes, it didn't look like Penn was going to get enough stops to make it interesting.
Then, with 7:51 to go, the run started on a Jackson-Cartwright jumper and didn't stop until the Quakers had retaken the lead.
"They showed zone ... and that kind of got us out of our offense," Temple junior point guard Will Cummings said. "We didn't really move without the ball and we kind of just started standing around."
While Temple's offense grounded to a halt, Jackson-Cartwright and Hicks started breaking the other way off turnovers and outlet passes from center Darien Nelson-Henry, who finished with a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double.
Unfortunately for Penn, which gave up the final seven points of the game to lose, those three were the only three who really produced. Each of them finished in double figures, but no other Quaker did. Actually, Hicks, Nelson-Henry and Jackson-Cartwright combined for 59 of Penn's 73 points. The other 10 guys who saw the floor accounted for the remaining 14, and eight of those belonged to Archbishop Wood-product Fran Dougherty.
Other than the fact that Nelson-Henry is a monster underneath and Hicks is likely the toughest player to guard in the Ivy, Allen was asked what he learned about the rest of his team Saturday night.
"I know we can't guard the ball and I know we can't rebound," he answered. Penn was beaten on the glass, 49-35, and Temple came away with 20 offensive boards.
"If you can't do those two things," he continued, "you're going to lose more than you win."
True, but Penn has the next four months to correct those issues as it attempts to win its first Ivy League title since 2007, the season after Fran Dunphy left. There's plenty of positives to draw on from Saturday, including the performances of Hicks and Nelson-Henry.
Someone asked Allen what the Quakers' run said about their resiliency.
"Really, nothing," he said. "We don't pride ourselves on putting up a good fight. That's a loser's mentality. We always say, regardless of what I write on the board, the game is going to come down to a direct function of whether we impose our will or not.
"It's unfortunate to exert all that energy just to have to battle back. Why we don't play that way from the opening tip? I guess that's on me. We have to be better."