Thank you St. Joseph’s.
While most of New Orleans was partying on Bourbon Street and enjoying the St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the Temple Owls spent their Saturday night in the hotel room, drawing inspiration from an old foe.
What the Owls witnessed was their fellow Big Five and Atlantic 10 counterpart, the Hawks of St. Joe’s, nearly pulling off a miracle upset before falling to top-seeded Stanford, 90-83. Despite the Hawks’ defeat, the game put the Owls in the perfect state of mind as 11th-seeded Temple flourished in that same underdog role 24 hours later in demolishing third-seeded Florida, 75-54.
According to Quincy Wadley, Marvin O’Connor’s incredible 37-point performance served as the perfect motivation.
“The whole time, I was watching Marvin,” Wadley told the Daily News. “Every time I saw him go down the court, he hit a shot or played great defense. After the game, I just wanted to play our game right away. It was definitely an inspiration.”
The key for the Owls going into the game was to establish tempo, and they did so early against a faster, more athletic Florida team. Wadley, who is arguably playing the best basketball of his career, sparked a key 14-0 first-half run that gave Temple 33-20 lead with 4:30 remaining.
At the end of the half, Lynn Greer was fouled at the three-point line with .9 seconds left on the clock (sounds familiar). Greer sank all three attempts to give Temple a 45-25 lead at intermission. At that point, with the Owls’ match-up zone defense clicking on all cylinders, it was Temple’s game to lose.
“It’s too hard to come back against a team that practices ball control,” Wadley said after the game. “It demoralizes them. Sometimes that’s something that takes them out of their game.”
The second half looked identical to the first.
As the Gators continued to miss three-pointers, the Owls gained confidence. The bigger the deficit, the slower Temple walked up-court. The slower the tempo, the faster the clock expired. It was Temple basketball to a tee.
Wadley and Greer finished the game with 24 and 20 points apiece. Kevin Lyde’s 11 points and Alex Wesby’s 13 points rounded out Temple’s four players scoring in double figures.
Florida center Udonis Haslem led last year’s national runner-up with 16 points and eight rebounds, but the team’s two sharpshooters, Brent Nelson and Teddy Dupay, went a combined 6-of-22 from the field.
“They’ve got a really active zone,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It was tough to get off shots [and] we took some long, ill-advised threes.”
The victory puts the Owls in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. Temple defeated sixth-seeded Texas 79-65 in the opening round, and will play in the unlikeliest of match-ups against cross-state rival Penn State in Atlanta for a coveted spot in the Elite Eight.
Not bad for a team that lost three starters, suffered a seven-game losing streak, and was teetering the on the verge of post-season elimination long before March even began.
“Who are these guys? I don’t know, and they’re not even wearing masks,” John Chaney said jokingly after the game. “With everything that’s happened to us, having gotten this far is just an amazing accomplishment. I’m pretty excited about that.”
We knew this year’s tournament was going to be wacky, but no one would have ever predicted it to be this weird. The South bracket alone had its second through sixth seeds eliminated by the end of the first weekend.
Fourth-seeded Oklahoma and fifth-seeded Virginia were both knocked out by Indiana State and Gonzaga, respectively, and seventh-seeded Penn State did heavy damage to everyone’s tournament pool by defeating Providence and upsetting second-seeded North Carolina, 84-72.
“Hotlanta” will play host to a Michigan State-Gonzaga, Temple-Penn State doubleheader this Friday.
In the West, Boise, Idaho, was treated to four first-round games that were decided by a total of seven points.
The 15th seeded Hampton University Pirates pulled off the largest upset of the tournament, defeating second-seeded Iowa State 58-57. The Pirates later fell to 10th seeded Georgetown, who squeaked past Arkansas in the first round, 63-61, thanks to a controversial lay-up as time expired.
Coach Lefty Driesell and his Georgia State Bulldogs defeated Wisconsin 50-49 and got a much-anticipated chance to knock off his former team in third-seeded Maryland. But Lonny Baxter’s 19-point, 14-rebound performance proved to be too much as the Terps walked away with the game in the second half to grab a 79-60 victory.
In San Diego, O’Connor received a standing ovation from the Stanford faithful, as he put Hawk Hill back on the national map before the Hawks lost to top-seeded Stanford 90-83. The Cincinnati Bearcats, the fifth seed, had two easy games against 12th seeded Brigham Young and 13th seeded Kent State on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Their mettle will finally be tested Thursday night against Stanford, while Maryland and Georgetown will meet in the other half of the doubleheader.
Order was finally restored in the East and Midwest Regions. The top four seeds in the Midwest advanced, as top-seeded Illinois will face fourth-seeded Kansas, and second-seeded Arizona will meet Mississippi, the third seed.
Ole Miss was the only team in particular to survive a scare en route to the Sweet 16. Iona played the Rebels down to the wire before falling 72-70, and it took a three-point shot from Ole Miss point-guard Jason Harrison to slip past Notre Dame in the round of 32, 59-56.
Last but not least, Philadelphia will be treated to a blockbuster weekend as top-seeded Duke will face fourth-seeded UCLA, and second-seeded Kentucky will square off against sixth-seeded USC.
In the bracket of champions, the Trojans knocked off Big East champion Boston College, and Kentucky defeated Big 10 Tournament champion Iowa minus Luke Recker in the second round.
UCLA also outlasted American East champion Hofstra, before cruising against Big West Conference champion Utah State, 75-50.
Could Philadelphia witness another Duke-Kentucky tournament classic this weekend? We’ll all have to wait and see.