John Chaney proved himself wrong, but he probably doesn’t mind the result. After his Owls were trampled by Illinois last week, the Temple coach said he didn’t care about winning another game until the New Year. He was more interested in getting his team playing competently.
He even made a point to dismiss beating any city teams and said beating Indiana or Georgetown would be more satisfying.
In the first game of Saturday’s Big 5 tripleheader at the Palestra, Temple used a late run to pull away from Drexel, 57-48. It was Temple’s first win of the season after opening the season with three straight double-digit losses.
Led by senior guard David Hawkins’ 26 points and seven rebounds, the Owls (1-3) were able to hold off the pesky Dragons (1-3). Hawkins drained 14 of 15 free throws and broke a tie when he connected on a three-pointer with 2:15 left in the game, putting the Owls up for good.
Despite the storied history of the Big 5, this was only the third annual tripleheader ever held. Drexel, considered to be the sixth city team, has been welcomed into the rivalry as a cousin to the other five schools. The last time these two teams met was in the first round of last year’s National Invitation Tournament [NIT]. The Owls won that game, too.
Afterwards, the press conference was a lively scene with Chaney being his usual candid self.
When Hawkins was asked about the 17 turnovers Temple committed, Hawkins gave a quizzical look.
“Did we have 17 turnovers?,” Hawkins said.
“Tell him it was the referee’s fault,” Chaney blurted out.
“It was the referee’s fault,” Hawkins repeated.
Then, as the press conference wrapped up, Drexel coach Bruiser Flint walked into the tiny media room.
Chaney lauded Flint.
“Man, you had a good game plan, man,” Chaney said, looking up at Flint. ” I don’t understand you.”
The two exchanged playful words with each other.
“Man, you’re going to be fine, Bruiser. Just keep your ass away from me. I hope I never see you again,” Chaney quipped. “He came out with some super duper game plan.”
Unlike their first three games, Temple avoided getting off to a slow start. Drexel did hold the lead through most of the first half, but Hawkins hit a pair of free throws and then drained a three-pointer to get the Owls up 25-22 late in the half.
Bad shooting plagued both squads as Temple shot 33 percent from the field and the Dragons managed a slightly worse 32.7 percent. The second half would come down to free throws, as the teams combined for just 15 field goals in the half
With just over 16 minutes left, Owls sophomore guard Mardy Collins hit a three-pointer, extending the lead to 31-24. Then Drexel grabbed the lead back with consecutive threes with just under 10 minutes to go.
The next seven minutes consisted of just one field goal and 12 free throws between the two teams. With 3:11 left to play, Hawkins hit a three-pointer, and Collins followed with a drive for a short jumper in the paint. Hawkins snatched a steal, driving the length of the court for a lay-up and a foul, putting the Owls up by 51-43.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s good to finally get a win,” Hawkins said. “They’re not one of the best teams, (but) they played hard, and that just shows with our schedule, we got to come out and play better than we did.”
As a team, Temple shot 21 of 29 from the charity stripe, while Drexel finished only 5 of 10 from the line.
“We didn’t attack the basket,” Flint said, “We had opportunities. We were open, we didn’t knock them down, but sometimes we can’t do certain things. I wanted them to attack the basket more.”
Drexel was led by senior forward Tim Whitworth’s 11 points and 10 rebounds and sophomore guard Kenell Sanchez, who also had 11 points.
For the first time in this young season, the Owls finally put together a solid defensive effort. Drexel was flummoxed at times by Chaney’s swirling matchup zone. A key to their success was rebounding. After being vastly out-rebounded in three straight games, Temple had a 43-35 edge.
Chaney, who has been riding Collins and forward Antywane Robinson, spoke to them after the game and told them how critical they are to the team’s success.
“He pulled us to the side and was like ‘Look, we need you play better. David [Hawkins] can’t do it by himself.’ We had to respond to his call,” said Robinson, who finished with four points and six rebounds.
They did, and the result was an ugly win, just the way Chaney likes them.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at email@example.com..