The star at the beginning of the game was definitely not Darien Nelson-Henry. Although he was finding good positioning, he just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. With a little under 3 minutes left in the half, Nelson-Henry had only 4 points. But by the time 15 minutes were left in the second half, the Washington state native had 24 points.
After trading early baskets to begin the game Penn pulled ahead 10-9 going into the first media break. La Salle head coach John Giannini had to dig into his bench early and sub center Tony Washington into the game to match the size of Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry.
La Salle’s Cleon Roberts was the star of the first half with 14 points. Penn couldn’t find a way to slow him down as the former transfer was 5-6 from the field and 2-2 from three point range.
Penn’s Sam Jones got into foul trouble early and had trouble getting his game going. With only 2 points and 10 minutes of play, the Explorers did a good job of containing him in the first half.
The La Salle lead stretched to 10 in the first half and it looked like they would pull away with the win. Penn just couldn’t find the bottom of the basket and the La Salle offense was flowing well. After the 3 minute mark in the first half everything changed. Matt Howard hit a three and Nelson-Henry notched in 6 straight points to cut the La Salle lead to 3 points going into half.
Washington started the second half on the floor for the Explorers in place of forward Rohan Brown to continue to guard Nelson-Henry, but Washington’s 6-foot-10 frame did not make a difference in the eyes of the Penn senior.
Penn took the lead coming out of halftime 37-34, after a three from Jones and three point play from Nelson-Henry. Penn held the lead for the entirety of the second half, extending it to as large as 16 points. La Salle kept clawing, but could not find a way to regain the lead. Penn just wasn’t missing.
Part of the reason Penn began to pull away from the Explorers was Nelson-Henry’s hot stretch early on in the second half. Henry has scored 18 of his 31 points in the second half, as La Salle could not find a way to slow him down. He also was a dominant force on the rebounding end, completing the game with 14 rebounds.
Sam Jones also found his shot in the second half, finishing the game with 18 points on 6 of 8 shooting. Antonio Woods, who struggled in Saturday’s game against Washington, ended the game with 9 points and multiple big shots to extend the lead.
Go-to-scorer Jordan Price helped lead La Salle with 18 points while Roberts added a team high 20. However, this was not enough for the Explorers to come out on top as Penn scored 51 second half points.
-William Derry and Benjamin Simon
Photo: Benjamin Simon-The Empire
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament