For those with good memories, Saturday’s game must have brought about feelings of deja vu.
On Nov. 24, 2000, the unbeaten men’s basketball team faced the undefeated No. 2 Duke Blue Devils in the championship game of the preseason National Invitational Tournament.
The game came down to the wire. Temple saw its hopes of a win go awry as a last ditch three-point shot by forward Kevin Lyde hit only air. The Owls lost, 63-61, placing second in the tournament.
Over the last six years, that’s about as close as the two programs have gotten.
Fast forward a few seasons and you have a Temple program that has found itself dancing at the Junior Prom of March Madness known as the NIT, instead of at the Big Dance in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s been that way for the last four seasons and the Owls are seemingly headed toward the same fate this year. Meanwhile, Duke has not only advanced to each of the last five NCAA Tournaments but has cut down the nets in two Final Fours and won the National Championship in 2001.
In that same 2001 NCAA Tournament, the Owls missed a trip to the Final Four after losing to Michigan State, 69-62.
The chasm that stands between the two teams now could be attributed to two things: Duke’s uncanny consistency and the Owls inability to capitalize on their own opportunities.
So as Duke – the top-ranked team in the country – took the Wachovia Center floor last Saturday to face the Owls, the result of the game was supposed to be a foregone conclusion. Fans packed into the arena not wondering about the outcome, but were most concerned with witnessing Duke guard J.J. Redick become the Atlantic Coast Conference all-time scoring leader.
Those in attendance were not treated with a stunning upset that some fans (and writers like myself) were desperately hoping for. But those 20,000-odd people in the building witnessed a contest that was much more competitive than initially anticipated. It was quite possibly the NBA-welcome party for one of college basketball’s household names.
In a first half that was as equally intense as it was exciting, Duke clung to a six-point lead at the half thanks in large part to the interior dominance of center Shelden Williams. The 6-foot-9-inch, 250-pound forward finished with 23 points. He snagged eight of his 12 boards in the first half.
The Owls were able to prolong Redick’s record-breaking moment with a little under a minute and a half remaining in the game. The senior stepped to the free throw line and knocked down two free-throws, breaking a 51-year-old mark.
To the surprise of few, senior Mardy Collins led the Owls with a courageous 26-point performance. Collins had two stints on the bench late in the second half, the latter to a foot injury initially sustained earlier in the half. He carried Temple in the losing effort while more-than-solidifying his spot as a first-round pick in June’s NBA draft.
Since that championship game at the Garden in 2000, the two programs have endured a transition that each college basketball season brings. It includes constant speculation into the departure of coaches, whether it is into retirement or the next level of the game.
Like the state of Temple’s program prior to coach John Chaney’s arrival, Duke’s program was at best average before Mike Krzyzewski took the helm.
Over his 26 seasons at Duke, however, Krzyzewski has built a dynasty that very few programs in the history of college basketball can live up to. These are just a few notches in Coach K’s belt:
-Three National Championships, in the 1991, 1992 and 2001 seasons.
-Ten Final Four appearances.
-Twelve coach of the year awards.
As Hall of Fame coaches, Chaney and Krzyzewski have developed a close friendship over the years, and they are quick to praise each other.
“[Duke] is a classy team with a classy coach,” Chaney said. “… [T]hey should end up in the Final Four.”
Coach K said much of the same.
“John’s teams are always so difficult to play against,” Krzyzewski said. “They play so hard and really buckle down in half-court sets.”
When asked what playing against Chaney means to him, Krzyzewski expressed nothing but adulation.
“I love John. To me he is a pioneer as far as race relations in our sport,” he said. “… I totally respect John and am very honored to be his friend.”
With Chaney’s future still in limbo, those who were able to soak in Saturday’s action saw two of college basketball’s greatest coaches together for possibly the last time.
Saturday’s game, however, showcased the different paths both Temple and Duke have taken in six years. But most importantly, it showcased the personalities of their sideline leaders.
Jeremy Drummond can be reached at email@example.com.