BRIDGEPORT — With a massive block in the final minute and the roar of emotion that follow it, Wassef Methnani put a huge exclamation point on Fairfield’s first victory of the season.

The freshman forward scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots — including that final one against Caleb Wood — as the Stags defeated Penn 80-72 in the season opener before 1,672 Saturday afternoon at the Webster Bank Arena.

“Wassef was fantastic tonight,” said guard Tyler Nelson said, who led Fairfield with 30 points. “To do that in his first college game, that was huge. I look forward to him doing that a lot this year.”

With starting forward Jonathan Kasibabu saddled with foul trouble, coach Sydney Johnson called the 6-foot-8 forward’s number and Methnani — who hails from Tunisia — responded big time, playing 26 minutes and making eight of 13 shots from the floor — including a pair of 3-pointers.

“Wassef just went out and played within himself,” Johnson said. “It was fun to watch.”

It was also fun to watch Nelson light it up for 30 points. Although he didn’t make a 3, he was nine of 18 from the floor and 12 of 13 from the free throw line. He also added seven rebounds and six assists (no turnovers) in 37 minutes. Try as they might, there wasn’t much Penn could to do stop him.

“(Nelson’s) a great player,” Quakers coach Steve Donahue said. “I thought our defense was solid against him but he’s a crafty player, he baits you into fouls … that’s what makes him so good.”

Making a trio of 3-pointers in the opening five minutes, Penn held a four-point lead and kept pressuring to exapand the margin as Fairfield could not seem to get into an offensive rhythm. At one point, Fairfield went over four minutes without scoring a point. After a Jackson Donahue 3-pointer and a layup off a steal by Devon Goodman, the Quakers held a 26-14 lead with 8:15 left in the half.

But Fairfield responded with a 15-1 run over the next five minutes. Ferron Flavors started things with a layup, Nelson added a three-point play, Methnani and Taj Benning had 3s, Nelson scored in close and Jesus Cruz drove to the basket to put the Stags ahead 29-27.

Another Methnani 3-pointer and four free throws from Nelson made it 36-33 Fairfield at the break.

The Fairfield run extended into the second half as the Stags opened with a 10-4 surge to take a 46-37 lead. The Quakers answered with a 16-7 run to tie the game at 53-53 with 9:10 to play.

But over the next seven minutes, Penn could only muster sever points and Fairfield slowly pulled away.

“We knew we had to dig in on defense,” Nelson said. “They’re a good shooting team and they were going to make some shots but if we limited their three’s that would give us an advantage and we did a great job of that.”

“We upped it a notch there,” added Johnson about the defense, “In terms of focus. I thought the intensity was OK, but we just weren’t locked into the personnel and they hurt us for a while. We made the adjustment, got back the lead and played solid defensively.”

Ryan Betley led Penn with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Darnell Foreman added 17 points and A.J. Brodeur had 13. For Fairfield, Matija Milin had nine points and five rebounds, Flavors Jr., had eight points and seven rebounds and Cruz had six points.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Stags freshman forward Wassef Methnani. What a debut. 20 points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal and three blocks in 26 minutes. Oh, he also buried a couple of 3-pointers, shooting eight of 13 from the field.

WATCH LIST

Nelson has been named to the Lou Henson Mid-Major player of the Year watch list which is presented annually by CollegeInsider.com. Nelson is one of 50 players being considered for the award. Nelson was also named as the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year.

QUOTABLE

“Obviously, it all starts with No. 3 and the pressure he’s able to put on other teams. He’s an incredible player. He’s just a winner.” — Sydney Johnson on Tyler Nelson

NEXT UP

Tuesday — Loyola (Md.) 7 p.m. Webster Bank Arena

celsberry@ctpost.com

FAIRFIELD 80, PENN 72

PENN (0-1)

Brodeur 6-12 1-4 13, Rothschild 0-1 0-0 0, Foreman 4-11 7-8 17, Woods 0-1 0-0 0, Betley 7-18 3-4 20, Simmons 0-0 0-0 0, Dwyer 0-0 0-1 0, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Goodman 4-10 0-1 8, Donahue 2-12 0-1 5, Scott 0-0 0-0 0, MacDonald 0-0 0-0 0, Wood 3-6 0-0 9. Totals 26-72 11-19 72.

FAIRFIELD (1-0)

Kasibabu 1-2 0-0 2, Milin 3-5 3-4 9, Nelson 9-18 12-13 30, Segura 1-2 0-0 2, Flavors 2-7 3-4 8, Methnani 8-13 2-2 20, Senghore-Peterson 0-2 0-1 0, Benning 1-1 0-0 3, Cruz 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 28-56 20-24 80.

Halftime—Fairfield 36-33. 3-Point Goals—Penn 9-39 (Wood 3-4, Betley 3-11, Foreman 2-7, Donahue 1-7, Woods 0-1, Jones 0-1, Goodman 0-4, Brodeur 0-4), Fairfield 4-17 (Methnani 2-4, Benning 1-1, Flavors 1-5, Kasibabu 0-1, Cruz 0-2, Nelson 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Penn 30 (Betley 10), Fairfield 44 (Methnani 8). Assists—Penn 14 (Foreman, Brodeur 4), Fairfield 13 (Nelson 6). Total Fouls—Penn 21, Fairfield 22. A—1,672 (9,000).