With just two games left in the regular season and the Atlantic 10 tournament quickly approaching, it is pretty clear that John Chaney’s harsh scheduling early in the season has Temple ready for anything that comes its way.
The Owls were 6-1 during the month of February and Chaney’s career .745 winning percentage in that month is a testament to his process of getting players to buy into his system.
“We have a lot of character, especially after everyone gave up on us,” junior guard David Hawkins said. “It took time for everyone to get on one page.”
After opening the season with five straight losses – the worst start in the program’s history – Temple has clawed its way back into second place in the East division of the A-10.
With a combined nine freshman and sophomores on the roster, the Owls have displayed the type of resilience observers have come to expect from Chaney-guided teams.
The Owls have won despite the loss of their leading rebounder, freshman forward Antywane Robinson.
Temple outlasted St. Bonaventure last Saturday, 78-77, moving one step closer to securing a first round bye in the A-10 tournament.
Hawkins and junior small forward Brian Polk each scored 19 points in a see-saw battle highlighted by a scuffle that caused a 10-minute delay for officials to sort out.
With less than a minute left and the game tied, Owls freshman point guard Mardy Collins swished an 18-foot jumper. The Bonnies tied the game up on free throws, and on the ensuing Owls possession with the shot clock running down, Hawkins sank a baseline jumper with seven seconds left.
The Bonnies had a chance to tie the game with three seconds left, but Marques Green, the conference’s top free throw shooter, botched his second attempt, giving the Owls their fifth straight victory.
“This year means more to me than anything else, because of the way we started out,” Chaney said.
Moments before saying that, Chaney groused, “I’m not proud of them.”
Such contradictory statements are typical of Chaney, but it’s also a tell-tale sign that March Madness is approaching.
The Owls play their final home game of the season tonight against LaSalle, a team who last year eliminated Temple from the A-10 tournament.
Though the Explorers are a vastly different squad from last year, the stinging losses they handed the Owls (LaSalle also beat Temple at Tom Gola Arena last season) have not been forgotten.
Temple wraps up the regular season with a showdown at 11th-ranked Xavier Saturday in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers are led by David West, a national player of the year candidate, and swingman Romain Sato.
“It’s a chance to prove that we’re still a team to fear,” sophomore forward Hawley Smith said.
The Owls upset the Musketeers, 67-56, at the Liacouras Center last year by shutting out Sato.
West was mired in foul trouble.
Alex Wesby, the team’s lone senior, said Temple can’t look past LaSalle tonight, even if Saturday’s matchup at Xavier seems tantalizing. With a win over the Explorers, Temple gets a free pass to the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament in Dayton.
“On any day, any team is capable of beating you,” Wesby said.
The A-10 tournament has arrived at the perfect time. Temple has been playing its best basketball of the season.
They know they’ll have to run the table at the A-10 tournament if they want to hear their names announced on “Selection Sunday.”
“Our fate’s in our hands,” Smith said, “not the NCAA committee. So we’ve got to take care of our business.”
Jason Haslam can be reached at Jason.firstname.lastname@example.org