The men’s basketball team’s game against Drexel might not have seemed to have much significance at the beginning of the season.
But the game became more meaningful as the Dragons went on a December tear, winning four straight games including road games against Villanova and No. 23 Syracuse.
Suddenly, the Owls had the chance to knock off Philadelphia’s hottest – and perhaps best – college team.
The Owls hung tough, but a second-half scoring draught allowed the Dragons to exit the Liacouras Center Friday with a 69-54 victory. The Dragons beat the Owls for the first time since 1982, following eight consecutive losses.
“Sometimes, I have to remind my team that we can be really good,” Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. “I come into these games thinking we’re going to lose to these guys.
“This is a little different. This ain’t the Drexel of old.”
The Owls (5-4) held the Dragons’ two interior threats, Chaz Crawford and Frank Elegar, in check, limiting the duo to a combined nine rebounds.
Reserves Randy Oveneke and Kenny Tribbett picked up the slack, though, recording eight and seven rebounds, respectively.
The Dragons (8-2) also limited the effectiveness of the Owls’ top scorer, Dionte Christmas. Christmas finished with 12 points, the first time in eight games he failed to accumulate at least 20 points.
“That’s going to happen,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s not going to be our leading scorer every game.”
The Owls jumped to a 9-0 lead at 16:21. Dustin Salisbery hit the first of his 10 opening period points during the stretch.
The senior guard had struggled with his shot in the Owls’ two previous games, going a combined 5-of-25 from the floor.
But the Owls stumbled over the next six minutes. They hit just two shots – both three-pointers – as Drexel evened the score at 15-15.
The Owls committed six turnovers and sent the Dragons to the foul line six times. The Dragons capitalized, nailing 10-of-12 shots from the charity stripe. The Dragons made 28-of-36 foul shots in the game.
“I think we committed too many silly fouls and got them to the foul line early,” Salisbery said. “A lot of their points came at the foul line tonight.”
The final eight and a half minutes featured five lead changes and four ties. Drexel exited the first stanza with a 31-30 lead.
The second half featured more of the same. Sergio Olmos tied the game at 43-43 with 12:35 remaining, but the Owls scored just two baskets over the next nine minutes as the Dragons built a 59-47 lead.
The draught was similar to the one the Owls’ suffered in their loss to Cincinnati earlier this season.
“I think there was some impatience going on out there,” Dunphy said. “This was the first time all year that we got ourselves down a little bit in the second half and we didn’t handle that as well as we would like.”
Those anxious to catch former Temple star Mardy Collins’ return to Philadelphia will have to wait a bit longer.
Collins will not play in the New York Knicks/Philadelphia 76ers game at the Wachovia Center Saturday because he is serving a six-game suspension for his part in a Dec. 16 brawl between the Knicks and the Denver Nuggets.
Saturday’s game marks the first time the Knicks have visited Collins’ hometown during the regular season. Collins, a rookie, saw 22 minutes of action in the Knicks’ preseason game against the Sixers at the Wachovia Center on Oct. 14.
The Knicks only other visit to Philadelphia this season is Feb. 21.
After a six-day layoff, the Owls take on Lafayette at the Liacouras Center on
Thursday. The Leopards entered their game against Mount Saint Mary’s Friday night at 5-7.
Junior guard Matt Betley tops the Leopards with 11.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
The local teams have not met in the regular season since 1982, when the Owls beat the Leopards 76-66. Temple also defeated Lafayette in the opening round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
The Owls have won the last 23 games, last losing to the Leopards in 1959.
FINAL FOUR RECOGNITION
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Owls’ first Final Four Appearance. Each of the 11 living members of 1956 Owls will be honored during halftime during Thursday’s game.
Guard Guy Rodgers and Final Four Most Valuable Player Hal Lear led Temple to a No. 13 ranking that season, under the direction of Hall of Fame coach Harry Litwack.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.