Thursday’s game against Saint Joseph’s really is Temple’s ‘biggest game of the rest of the season.’
That’s the mantra the Owls (11-14) have been taking into each of their contests in recent weeks. It’s their way of making sure they don’t overlook anyone.
But the Owls’ next game likely will be their toughest contest in their final four games. And the most important.Saturday’s 84-72 road loss to George Washington dropped the Owls to 5-7 and into 11th place in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
That puts them two games in front of St. Bonaventure for 12th place, the final spot for next month’s A-10 tournament. Though a first-round bye, given to the conference’s top four teams, is almost unattainable,
a few wins could catapult Temple much higher in the A-10 standings.
The league’s fifth and 11th places are separated by just two games. In between are five teams, all with mediocre records at or around .500. The Owls will play three of those teams – Charlotte, Dayton and Fordham – to close the season. Despite a two-game losing streak, the window to a decent seed is still wide open for the Owls.
A win over fourth-place St. Joe’s (16-10, 8-4) could set the tone for the Owls’ final three games. These city rivalries have a tendency of doing just that.With a victory, the Owls would end their skid knowing that their competition won’t get any tougher until the A-10 tourney.
A loss would have them mired in a three-game losing streak and scrambling back to the confines of the Liacouras Center, where the Owls are 8-4.The Hawks have had Temple’s number in recent seasons. The Owls have won just once in their last 10 meetings against their crosstown
A bigger problem – both literally and figuratively – is the Hawks’ Ahmad Nivens. The 6-9 forward, who averages 15.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, staked claim of the interior in the teams’ previous meeting. Nivens notched 20 points and grabbed eight boards as the Hawks exited the Liacouras Center with the win. Double-teaming Nivens doesn’t necessarily
benefit the Owls, either.
“If you help off [Rob] Ferguson, he’s got a tremendous jump shot,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “If you help off [Pat] Calathes, he adds a lot to their team. He really has a complete game.”
Still, the undersized Owls have shown they can hold their own against a hefty frontcourt.
The Owls, who did so against UMass, have stressed team rebounding. Dion Dacons,
despite a commendable effort, can’t handle the interior on his own. If any of the players have received that message, it’s Mark Tyndale.
The junior guard has notched four double-doubles in the last six games. Tyndale, who’s averaging 23.3 points and 10 boards during that span, has risen to 13th in the conference in rebounding.
Against the Hawks, the Owls will need more of the same from Tyndale, but they’ll also need Dionte Christmas to rebound from two sub-par showings. The A-10’s leading scorer was held to just five points against the Colonials over the weekend. The sophomore guard collected 17 at La Salle, but struggled to find his shot. Christmas has made only 7-of-29 shots in his last two games, including 4-of-21 from beyond the arc.
The Hawks limited Christmas to just 2-of-12 shooting and nine points, which marked the first time this season Christmas had been held under 10 points.
“They didn’t let him get the ball,” Dunphy
said. “When they did, they surrounded him.”
Three Owls – Christmas, Tyndale and Dustin Salisbery – currently rank in the A-10’s top five in scoring. Christmas tops the league with 21.0 points. Tyndale is third with 18.4 and Salisbery is fifth with 17.0. … Tyndale earned A-10 Player of the Week honors for the second consecutive week.
An Owl has been given that honor for the fifth straight week and sixth time this season. Christmas leads the A-10 with four Player of the Week honors.
John Kopp can be reached at
email@example.com. Christopher A. Vito contributed to this report.