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Brown claws past Penn at The Palestra, 71-55

02/14/2015, 3:45pm EST
By Tom Reifsnyder
Matt Howard

Matt Howard (above) led all Penn scorers with 19 points in Saturday’s loss to Brown. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Tom Reifsnyder (@tom_reifsnyder)

When two struggling teams collide, it’s bound to be a dogfight.

Or, in this case, a bear fight.

The Brown Bears, who entered the game as losers of six of their last seven games, scratched and clawed their way to a 71-55 victory at the expense of the Penn Quakers, losers of three of their last four, on Saturday night at The Palestra.

The Bears were bolstered by sophomore sharpshooter J.R. Hobbie, who knocked down 5-of-7 three-point attempts en route to a game-high 21 points.

Three-point shooting seemed to be the difference as Brown knocked down nine of its 17 attempts, whereas Penn only managed to hit three.

The second half was almost a complete domination by Brown, but early on, it looked like Penn had a legitimate shot to bounce back from its recent 75-48 blowout loss at the hands of Yale.

Penn’s Matt Poplawski, a 5-foot-10 sophomore who’s averaging roughly three minutes per game, scored three points in five minutes of first half action.

Meaningless, right?

Not quite. Poplawski’s three points were the biggest of the half as his and-one layup with just five seconds to play gave Penn a 30-29 advantage over Brown at the break.

Despite Poplawski's unlikely contribution, Penn head coach Jerome Allen wasn't overly pleased with his team's performance in the first frame.

“I didn’t think the level of excitement was great in the first half,” Allen said. “I thought we made some plays, I thought Matty Pop gave us a huge lift going into halftime but it was better than previous Saturdays.

“We just didn’t finish the proper way.”

Neither Brown nor Penn shot the ball particularly well in the first half, both finishing below 40 percent from the field. But Brown kept the pressure on Penn via the long ball, shooting 5-of-12 from three-point range through the first 20 minutes.

Brown sophomores Steven Spieth and Hobbie, who accounted for three of the Bears’ five first half treys, scored nine and eight respectively to keep pace with the Quakers; Spieth would finish just two points behind Hobbie’s game-high with 19.

With Tony Hicks shooting 0-of-6 in the first half, Penn looked inside to Greg Louis and Darien Nelson-Henry who combined for 13 points and 7 rebounds at the break.

Hicks would struggle from start to finish, scoring just six points on 1-of-12 shooting in 23 minutes; and he picked up a technical to boot.

“I think I gotta do a better job of managing the emotional aspect of the team,” Allen said. “I may have to pay more attention to how the flow of the game is going.

“Whether the tech was warranted or not, they called it; so it was warranted.”

Hobbie continued his hot streak from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the second half, knocking down back-to-back threes to give Brown a 10-point advantage with 14 minutes to play.

After a Matt Howard three-point attempt rattled to the bottom of the net, Hobbie would strike yet again, sinking a deep three from the wing to force a Penn timeout with just over eight minutes to play as the Quakers trailed 51-44.

“I think two threes in particular that Hobbie hit were 50-50 balls and we don’t come up with them at the end of the shot clock and he knocks a couple down,” Allen said. “We might have gotten the initial assignment but we just didn’t put the complete possession together and he was open and he made it.”

In need of a fresh boost of energy, Allen gave Poplawski another chance. The sophomore would reward his head coach in the form of a nothing-but-net jumper from the wing that cut Brown’s lead to just seven with five minutes to play.

“I’m confident that he can help us win, but with that being said he had the right type of demeanor, right type of energy; he made plays, defended, got the ball moving, you heard his voice on defense,” Allen said. “That’s been consistent with him throughout the year in a practice setting and he always stays ready and he had the opportunity to help us tonight.”

Poplawski would continue to get meaningful minutes, but his energy wasn’t enough to give Penn a fighting chance down the stretch as Hobbie, Spieth and sophomore point guard Tavon Blackmon, who finished with 14 points and four assists, kept Brown’s lead in safe hands until the final buzzer.

Howard finished with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting to lead Penn in a losing effort as Nelson-Henry and Louis chipped in with nine and eight respectively.

Cedric Kuakumensaha 6-9, 245-pound junior, gave Penn’s bigs fits all game long as he recorded a near double-double, posting nine points and a game-high nine rebounds in the win.

Brown (11-14, 2-6) takes on Columbia next Friday, Feb. 20 in hopes of winning two consecutive games for the first time since December.

Penn (7-14, 2-5) will look to avoid losing four in a row as the Quakers take on Harvard next Friday.

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