It looked as if Temple had the game in hand.
Leading by 16 points with 14 minutes to go on Saturday afternoon, everything seemed to be going its way.
But a defensive adjustment by Xavier coach Thad Matta caused the Owls to slowly wilt under the pressure. Temple fell prey to a dose of its own medicine: a zone defense.
The Musketeers walked out of the Liacouras Center with a 70-69 win, spoiling senior night for Temple’s do-everything guard, David Hawkins. A balanced Xavier attack was paced by guard Romaine Sato’s 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists and center Anthony Myles, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Hawkins tried to will the Owls to victory but received little support. In the final home game of his illustrious career, he played all 40 minutes – netting 31 points on 10-for-23 shooting.
“He’s one of the toughest players I’ve had in my life,” Temple coach John Chaney said.
In regard to next week’s Atlantic Ten Tournament, this game meant little. The Owls have a first-round bye and will play the winner of Richmond-Fordham.
To Hawkins, this game meant the world for the school’s third all-time leading scorer.
“Everything was going perfect,” said Hawkins, who three days earlier scored a career-high 41 en route to his 2000th career point in a dramatic double-overtime win against Massachusetts. “I don’t think the focus of my teammates was there. Some plays that were called weren’t executed.”
The Owls’ final possession was one of those poorly-executed plays. As sophomore guard Mardy Collins dribbled to the left wing, Hawkins came around a pick and headed to the corner of that side. But freshman guard Tyreek Byard ended up there, too, causing the play to bunch up. Hawkins took a handoff from Collins and squeezed off a shot. But with little room, the shot fell short.
“Some of the guys just didn’t listen to what the play was going to be,” Collins said.
Early on, the Owls were clicking on all cylinders. They shot 50 percent (15-for-30) in the first half as Hawkins capped things off with back-to-back threes, giving Temple a 39-31 lead.
With 14 minutes, 32 seconds left , Hawkins hit another shot from beyond the arc, making it 54-38. But the Owls would hit a slump. Hawkins managed just one three-pointer the rest of the game. As a team, Temple shot just 3-for-19 from the field in the final 14 minutes of play.
For the second straight game, Temple blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Xavier slowly chipped away as point guard Lionel Chalmers penetrated the Owls’ matchup zone, dishing off to Myles for easy layups or finding Sato sitting alone on the perimeter.
Chaney was livid with his big men and how they were exploited. He singled out sophomore center Keith Butler, junior forward Nehemiah Ingram and sophomore forwards Michael Blackshear and Antywane Robinson
“They gave us [nothing],” Chaney said. “We practice with them and they give us nothing. That’s what I’m really upset about. They just didn’t help David [Hawkins] out. You cannot teach during the game. They got a simple job, play one guy. They can’t do it.”
Butler played 32 minutes. He scored four points, grabbed 14 rebounds and four fouls. He struggled to contain the Musketeers’ Myles. Xavier outscored the Owls 24-16 in the paint.
Robinson finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while Collins was 4-for-13 for 10 points.
To counter the Xavier zone, Hawkins placed himself around the free throw line, which would have allowed him to drive to the hoop and draw fouls. But that didn’t happen.
“They couldn’t get it to me,” Hawkins said. “Xavier was just sagging on me, so it would have been a risky pass to throw it in there. That’s when other people got to step up and hit shots.”
Temple shot just 32 percent in the second half.
“We had a lot of open shots,” Collins said. “Tyreek had about three open shots, Antywane had some open shots, David didn’t really get a lot of open shots, and I had a couple. So we had open shots. We just didn’t make them at all.”
Jason Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.