"I didn't think we deserved to win the game," Penn coach Jerome Allen said.
The Leopards won it, 85-83.
Fran O'Hanlon, who did such a great job as an assistant coach at Penn under Fran Dunphy and coached Allen through his brilliant Penn career, had brought many of those Lafayette teams to 33rd Street. This one led, 75-60, with those 7 1/2 minutes remaining. They were shooting 66 percent.
With zero warning, Penn, playing a lineup of Dau Jok, Darien Nelson-Henry, Camryn Crocker, Tony Hicks and Rennard, could not miss. The Quakers scored 21 points on 10 possessions with only one dry possession, and got even in only 4 1/2 minutes. They hit a couple of threes. They ran off misses and finished at the rim. They got the ball into freshman big man Nelson-Henry, who was terrific with 17 points. Jok (18 points) not only hit four threes, he also got seven rebounds.
"I thought Dau was great," Allen said. "He rebounded the ball. He made shots when he was open. He competed. I wish more guys had played with more sense of urgency like Dau did. He just values every opportunity that he gets, whether it's 1 minute or 31 minutes."
Penn (2-12) got it tied, 81-81. Nelson-Henry had two free throws to untie it after a timeout and a second timeout to discuss how many timeouts each team had remaining. He missed both. Lafayette's Bryce Scott hit a three with 1:55 left. Lafayette (7-10) never gave up the lead again, but it certainly never felt safe again.
Especially when the game's final timeouts were taken with 7.5 seconds and the Quakers had the ball in front of their bench, trailing by the final score. Hicks got the ball on the run toward the rim, drew the entire defense to him and pitched it out to a wide-open Rennard.
"I'm thinking whatever happens happens," O'Hanlon said. "I can't stop it now. I'm going down to their bench in a second and whatever happens, I'll be happy or sad. I'm certainly happy that we won the game, but for Jerome, who's somebody I have such respect for and love dearly . . . "
The shot was off, but not by much.
Finally, Lafayette left the Palestra with a win over Penn. Tony Johnson (25 points) dominated the game.
"Tony's only lost here once," O'Hanlon said. "Me, on the other hand . . . "
Lafayette, which used to come down from Easton regularly to play La Salle, Temple and Saint Joseph's at the Palestra, is now 4-59 in the building, but 1-0 in 2013.
Even up by 15, O'Hanlon wasn't making any plans to celebrate.
"I'm thinking it's one possession at a time," he said. "Then, they hit threes, big shots. Then, we had a couple I thought that rimmed out, like the ghost of the Palestra was like pushing it out. I thought they were down."
Ultimately, it was not about ghosts, but about Johnson.
"We did not have anybody who could guard Johnson," Allen said.
Penn, still playing without leading scorer and rebounder Fran Dougherty (mononucleosis), has to find a way to get ready to play at Princeton in the Ivy League opener on Saturday.
Penn shot 59.6 percent, which will win most nights. Defense, to be charitable, is not the Leopards' strength. But Penn, which has no seniors and went even younger down the stretch, will get better, perhaps even much better. It just won't happen overnight.
Will Allen remember the loss or the rally?
"I'll take the loss," Allen said. "I told the last unit that finished the game I appreciated their effort. I appreciated their willingness to continue to compete one possession at a time. But on the flip side of that, we've got to respect the game enough to not put ourselves in that situation some 33 minutes prior. I didn't think we deserved to win the game. We battled down the stretch and never gave up, but we did not deserve to win the game."
Penn won those 7 minutes. It was, as the coach said, the other 33 that were the problem.
Penn has been trying to become the 11th program to win Game No, 1,700 for 6 weeks. Its time will come, just as Lafayette's finally did.