A line of students wrapped around the Liacouras Center on Feb. 17, waiting to get inside to see Temple take on Big 5 rival Villanova on a Wednesday night.
In front of the only soldout crowd of the season, Villanova coasted to an 83-67 win to help maintain its status as the top team in Division I basketball.
It was the third straight win for Villanova against the Owls. The Wildcats beat Temple by 23 points at The Pavilion in 2014 and beat the Owls by 16 points in the 2013-14 season at the Liacouras Center.
On Tuesday, the Owls’ seniors will head to The Pavilion to try to do something they’ve never done in three tries: Beat Villanova. After winning the NCAA title last season, the Wildcats enter play ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 and with a perfect 10-0 record, which includes wins against ranked University of Notre Dame and Purdue University squads. Temple is 2-16 against No. 1 ranked teams all-time, including two losses last season.
Villanova is also a perfect 3-0 against Big 5 teams, extending its winning streak to 17 against Philadelphia schools. The Wildcats’ last Big 5 loss was when Temple beat them at The Pavilion in 2012 behind 21 points from then senior forward Scootie Randall. The Owls need another win to end Villanova’s streak of three straight outright Big 5 titles.
The Big 5 rivalry only adds intrigue to the matchup.
“If you don’t like this, we’ve got to check your saliva here so it’s pretty cool,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “It’s really cool.”
“Guys that never been in this opportunity are excited for it,” redshirt-senior swingman Daniel Dingle added. “Myself, I think we beat Villanova my freshman year with Khalif [Wyatt] and them at Villanova so I had the opportunity of winning a game against them. We’re the underdogs as always and we look forward to proving everybody wrong so I guess that’s the challenge.”
Villanova has been playing all-around basketball through its first 10 games. The Wildcats shoot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range and hit 50 percent of their shots from the field. They’re also getting contributions from a mix of players. Sophomore guard Jalen Brunson led the Wildcats with 26 points in their win against La Salle, but only had eight points against the University of Notre Dame.
Brunson is one of four Villanova players that averages in double figures in scoring. Senior forward Kris Jenkins has had four games with 15 or more points to average 13.5 points per game and redshirt-sophomore swingman Mikal Bridges averages nearly 11 points per game. Senior guard Josh Hart leads Villanova with 19.5 points per game. He is coming off an 11-rebound performance with a career-high 37 points against Notre Dame at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
“They’re really good,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “Very very good on both ends of the court too. They have a great sense of who they are. I think they’ve all bought in defensively. They really take good pride in stopping others. They take great pride in sharing the basketball, they don’t care who scores. And yet when one of them, Josh Hart, for example, says you know what, ‘My team needs me to do a little something extra here on the offensive end,’ then he’s good with it. The rest of the team’s good with it. They’re a very secure team.”
When Temple faced Southern Methodist on Jan. 24, the Mustangs entered the Liacouras Center with a perfect 18-0 record and the No. 8 spot in the AP Top 25. Students rushed the court after the final buzzer sounded. Behind a perfect 8-for-8 performance from Devin Coleman and 19 points from Quenton DeCosey, the Owls upset Southern Methodist.
“I feel as though it might be more [excitement than leading into Southern Methodist] because it’s a Big 5 championship and it’s the Philly rivalry and I think nobody has beaten the seniors in the last three years or something like that,” Dingle said.
While Coleman and DeCosey were both seniors last year, the Owls’ backcourt is more youthful this year. Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. has started all 10 games and is No. 7 in Division I in assist to turnover ratio. Freshman guard Quinton Rose is averaging more than 23 minutes per game off the bench and is the team’s fourth leading scorer.
Freshman guard Alani Moore II had started every game until Saturday’s contest against DePaul University in Miami. Senior guard Josh Brown, working his way back to full strength after an Achilles tendon injury in May, played a season-high 28 minutes and scored 11 points to go with five assists. He also had a career-high seven assists against the Blue Demons to earn the HoopHall Miami Invitational MVP Award.
Brown is confident that the younger guards won’t be affected by the loud crowd at The Pavilion because of Temple’s experience in two games against ranked teams, especially the Owls’ win against West Virginia University, which had a large group of support at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“These young guys are kinda different than me,” Brown said. “I don’t think they’re freshmen. I mean you could just tell, if you need to talk to them, by the way they practice their approach but thus far, yesterday after the game, yesterday’s practice was pretty good for them. So I think they’re ready.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.