Saint Joseph’s had a losing record but still took Temple to overtime.
Going into last Saturday’s game at the Palestra, St. Joe’s (9-18 overall, 3-10 Atlantic Ten Conference) had lost three straight games, including an 88-52 thrashing by Xavier on Feb. 17. After posting nine consecutive winning seasons under coach Phil Martelli, the Hawks entered the game tied for 13th in the A-10. If the season ended today, the Hawks would miss the A-10 Tournament for the first time during Martelli’s tenure.
Also, since Honorable Mention All-American and A-10 Player of the Year Ahmad Nivins graduated, the Hawks have struggled with rebounding. They also rank 330th out of 334 NCAA Division I teams in turnover margin at -8.6 per game.
With all this in mind, last Saturday’s game should have been an easy one for the Cherry and White except for one glaring fact – it was a Big 5 game.
“Everybody says, and I’m still getting used to it, that a Big 5 game is different,” sophomore guard Juan Fernandez told OwlScoop.com. “If you’re ranked No. 1 and the other team is the worst in the country, every game is different. Today it was shown.”
On top of the rivalry, both teams entered last Saturday’s game jockeying for better seeding in the A-10 Tournament. The Owls are looking to seize a first-round bye, while the Hawks are simply trying to get in. That added element made the game extra tough, Dunphy said.
“I think the fact that we’re Atlantic 10 rivals and we’re both playing for seeding in the Atlantic 10 Tournament adds extra pressure to the game,” Dunphy said. “If it was just a simple, very difficult challenge for us with just the Big 5 game, that would be one thing. But then you throw in how important it is for the Atlantic 10 standings, and it really makes it doubly challenging.”
The Temple-St. Joe’s rivalry has always been a heated one. Before the Owls won seven straight games, the Hawks had won six of seven games. No two Big 5 teams have faced off as many times as the Owls and Hawks. Last Saturday’s game was the 150th meeting between the two teams. Temple holds the all-time lead at 85-65.
But Temple’s dominance against the Hawks almost ended last Saturday.
After leading by six points at halftime and opening up an eight-point lead in the second half, the Owls suddenly forgot how to shoot, allowing the Hawks to take the lead with 7 minutes, 40 seconds remaining. The two teams went back and forth until senior forward Garrett Williamson hit a layup to give the Hawks the lead with 5.7 seconds remaining. It appeared the Owls were seconds away from falling in both the A-10 standings and the national rankings.
Fortunately for the Owls, sophomore guard Ramone Moore had other plans. After taking an inbounds pass from junior forward Lavoy Allen, Moore raced down three-quarters of the court and successfully completed a layup to tie the game at 59-59 to force overtime. The Owls regained their shooting stroke in the extra period en route to a 75-67 victory.
Moore, who scored a career-high 24 points while grabbing a season-high nine rebounds, provided an extra element to the Temple offense, one that wasn’t relevant in the teams’ first matchup on Jan. 6, Martelli said.
“I don’t mean this to be disrespectful, but [Moore] wasn’t in the scouting report the first time [the teams played each other],” Martelli said. “He just wasn’t in there. Moore has a scorer’s mentality, and [the Owls] have a simplistic way of playing offense that allows him to kind of flow to the basket.”
While casual fans might be upset the Owls won by just seven points against a seemingly inferior team, that is the way it goes in rivalries, especially ones as heated as Temple-St. Joe’s. Each matchup has unique elements, and no game is as easy as it seems.
In a way, last Saturday’s game can also be used as a teaching opportunity for the Owls. From here on out, every team on the schedule is going to give Temple its all. No game can be overlooked, even games that appear to be utter mismatches.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.