Clark to the rescue

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Chris Clark dressed down La Salle with a career-high 22-point performance in the Owls’ win against the Explorers Saturday. The 5-foot-8 reserve didn’t score as much in the rematch Thursday night.

Dionte Christmas (By Ron Davis)ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Chris Clark dressed down La Salle with a career-high 22-point performance in the Owls’ win against the Explorers Saturday.

The 5-foot-8 reserve didn’t score as much in the rematch Thursday night. But he managed to hit enough clutch shots to lead second-seeded Temple to an 84-75 victory over No. 7 La Salle in the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament quarterfinals at Boardwalk Hall.

The Owls (19-12), who are on a season-high five-game winning streak, advanced to the A-10 semifinals to play the winner No. 6 Charlotte (19-12) Friday at 9 p.m. The Owls went 1-1 against the 49ers this season, winning the second meeting, 75-61, at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 27.

Against La Salle Thursday, Clark, a senior guard and a St. Joseph’s Prep graduate, untied a 75-75 game by scoring six consecutive points for the Owls late in the contest.

Of those six points, the biggest was a back-breaking, NBA-range three-pointer that soared high off the rim and, eventually, fell majestically through the net. The seemingly improbable shot, which Clark hoisted with the shot clock winding down, gave Temple an 80-75 lead with 50 seconds left.

“I was like, ‘Man, come on. You’ve got to fall for me,’” Clark said laughing. He finished with 12 points, going 3-of-5 from three-point territory.

Junior Dionte Christmas scored 29 points to lead the Owls, while senior Mark Tyndale gave another solid all-around effort, notching his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists despite seven turnovers. Junior Sergio Olmos scored 14 points – 10 in the second half – on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting night.

Sophomore Rodney Green scored a team-high 20 points for La Salle (15-17).

Trailing for the majority of the contest, the Explorers climbed back from a 53-39 deficit to take a one-point lead with nine minutes remaining. At one point during their rally, La Salle scored on 11 straight possessions – a 24-10 run over a seven-minute span.

But the Explorers were held scoreless for the final 2:15 of the game and Clark’s long-range circus shot helped drained the life out of any comeback hopes that La Salle could muster.

“It was a difficult shot to watch go in,” said La Salle senior Darnell Harris, who finished with 18 points.

La Salle coach John Giannini said Clark’s shot “seemed to go up near the top of the roof of the building before it dropped through the net.”

“Agony,” Giannini said later. “Just agony.”

Giannini’s squad found itself trailing, 9-0, after missing its first seven shots of the game. The Explorers didn’t get their first basket until sophomore Yves Mekongo Mbala scored on a put-back at the 16:05 mark of the first stanza.

The Explorers slowly started to find their offense though, and the Owls kept the window open for them.

Harris hit a three with 3:20 left before intermission to get La Salle within four points of tying the game. Although they allowed Temple to shoot 55 percent in the first half, La Salle went into halftime trailing, 43-35, to remain within striking distance.

Coming out of the break, Olmos scored eight of the Owls’ first 10 points before heading to the bench with his fourth foul at the 14:53 mark. Junior Lavoy Allen, who replaced Olmos, kept the Owls’ big-man production going as he zoomed up the right baseline for a lunging dunk that gave Temple a 55-44 lead with 14:32 left.

That’s when La Salle caught fire.

The Explorers embarked on a 17-6 run that ended with four consecutive three-pointers which put them ahead, 62-61, with less than 10 minutes remaining.

It wasn’t enough to keep the Owls from retaining the lead however.

Clark’s lucky three-point heave didn’t help matters, either.

“We feel very fortunate to have won the game. There was a stretch there in the second half where we were in big trouble,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “Certainly [Clark’s late-game three pointer] is as much of a sign of our good fortune as anything else that happened tonight.”

NOTES

Temple improved to 23-2 in A-10 Tournament quarterfinal games by defeating La Salle. … This was the second A-10 Tournament meeting between these two teams. La Salle defeated Temple in the A-10 quarterfinal in 2002, snapping the Owls five-game winning streak at the time. … Entering Thursday’s game, Temple had not beaten La Salle twice in a season since 2001. … This was the 35th time in junior Dionte Christmas’ career that he has scored 20 or more points in a game. … With about 14 minutes left in the game, senior Mark Tyndale lost his right sneaker and continued to play defense without it for about 10 seconds. At the next whistle, he ran to the scorers table to retrieve the shoe. … Special Assistant to the Director of Athletics Al Shrier, a longtime-member of the Temple athletic administration, was honored with the 2008 Bob Vetrone A-10 Media Award during the game. Shrier has worked at Temple for more than 50 years.

Tyson McCloud can be reached at tyson@temple.edu.

Also read: “Turnovers spoil Tyndale’s double-double”