College basketball experts were in consensus last week. The men’s basketball team, which had survived the most difficult nonconference schedule in the nation with a 5-7 record, could punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning at least 13 of its 16 games against Atlantic Ten opponents.
If that is true, the Owls (8-7, 4-0 in the A-10) can lessen their magic number to eight with a win at Fordham tomorrow.
The last time the Owls began their A-10 schedule with such success was six years ago, when they won their first seven games and rode that momentum to within one game of the Final Four. And even that team couldn’t accomplish what this year’s Owls pulled off Saturday – beating the Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati for the first time in school history.
The Owls don’t host another game until Feb. 2, so they can’t let their guard down on the road despite their position atop the standings, junior Mardy Collins said last Wednesday.
“Every time I look at the scores, I’m surprised,” said Collins, who scored 22 points at Xavier. “There are teams we beat, like UMass, who beat UConn and then we came up and beat [the Minutemen], and then they beat Xavier. It seems like the whole A-10 is wide open. That’s how I feel. Anybody can beat anybody this year, and I feel it’s going to be a good conference tournament especially.”
Coach John Chaney and the Owls therefore won’t take the Rams (7-10, 3-3) lightly. The Owls are riding a 19-game win streak in the all-time series, and haven’t lost to the Rams since January 1981.
The Owls nullified a shoot-first, ask-questions-later Musketeers offense that averaged over 72 points per game. Chaney’s matchup zone hassled Xavier into hitting only 31.7 percent from the field. Leading scorer Brian Thornton, averaging 12.6 points per game, was held to five points.
By contrast, the Owls rarely missed on offense. The team shot 54.5 percent, the first time a Temple team has hit more than half its field goal attempts in a game in nearly two years.
Even freshman Mark Tyndale, with a .303 field goal percentage this season, was 6-for-9 en route to a career-high 21 points.
Sophomore forward Wayne Marshall was elbowed above his right eye and received three stitches after the game. It was the second time in three games Marshall has required medical attention on his face; he missed the majority of the second half at Maryland after receiving a blow above the left eye.
Chaney didn’t want to advertise it, but the coach celebrated his 73rd birthday last Friday. The Owls are 5-3 on Chaney’s birthday in his 23 years at Temple, including a 73-69 victory over Pennsylvania last season.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.