When members of the men’s basketball team look at their schedule, they realize every game matters. One loss can be crippling, because there are only more tough games ahead that could turn into more tough defeats.
Wednesday’s showdown with Big 5 rival Pennsylvania was no different, and for the second straight game, the Owls came through. Junior point guard Mardy Collins, who had committed a nearly fatal turnover a minute earlier, hit two free throws with four seconds left to give the Owls a 52-51 victory at the Liacouras Center.
Collins said the Owls needed the win with games against nationally-ranked Alabama and Wake Forest on the horizon.
“It’s a big sigh of relief,” Collins said. “We want to get back to .500, and we want some momentum going into those big games. We didn’t want to go into the Alabama game 2-4 and start off 0-3 at home.”
“He ain’t made two foul shots in his life,” coach John Chaney said of Collins. “The gods must have been with him tonight.”
Thanks to Collins’ heroics, the Owls are 3-3. They haven’t evened their record this early in a season since 2001-02.
“We’re trying to build some momentum and chemistry on the team by playing a tough schedule, but at the same time, we don’t want to lose these games and then have to depend on winning the Atlantic Ten to get into the NCAAs,” Collins said.
Chaney said he suspected the players were trying to make all the games nail-biters in an effort to do him in.
“Mardy, tell them it’s a plot,” Chaney urged. “You’re all trying to kill me. Tell them. It’s a plot.”
The Quakers (4-3) had there way with Temple’s matchup zone early in the game. Four of Penn’s first five field goals were three-pointers.
That trend continued after halftime. Penn seniors Tim Begley and Eric Osmundson scored the Quakers’ first 14 points of the second half as the Owls tried to stay close. The Owls trailed by five points, 51-46, with three minutes remaining, but outscored the Quakers 6-0 the rest of the way to pull out the win.
Chaney insisted the Owls escaped with a victory they didn’t deserve. Though they forced 14 turnovers and outrebounded their opponent for the first time since the season opener, he said his players lacked the Quakers’ discipline.
“You have to give credit to [Penn coach Fran Dunphy’s] guys,” Chaney said. “They pass the ball, and they backdoor you to death, which is suicide for playground players [like the Owls].”
Collins led the Owls with 20 points and three steals. Junior center Keith Butler scored just three points but had nine rebounds and a season-high three blocks. Sophomore forward Wayne Marshall scored nine points and pulled down eight rebounds, his most since the opening game against Auburn.
The Owls made a concerted effort to stop Begley, who averages over 17 points per game. He was held to just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. While the Owls were occupied with Begley, Osmundson hit 6 of 8 three-point attempts en route to 20 points.
Dunphy gave all credit to the Owls’ point guard.
“Collins made a couple of really great plays down the stretch,” he said. “To step up and make those two free throws, that’s big time.”
The Owls won back-to-back games over Big 5 rivals for the first time since the 2000-01 season. That year, the Owls posted a regular-season record of 21-12 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Collins had more turnovers than assists for the first time this season, finishing with four and one, respectively. His season assist-to-turnover ratio is still 1.8 to 1, good for fourth in the A-10, but Wednesday marked his third straight game with four or more turnovers.
“I’m trying to run the team the best that I can,” Collins said. “Sometimes I make bad decisions.”
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.