Owls advance in A-10 tourney with win over Richmond

DAYTON– Aside from the sounds of a basketball hitting the hardwood, the crowd inside Dayton Arena was staid, anxiously awaiting the 9:30 tip off to the Dayton-Rhode Island game. And then, out of nowhere, a

DAYTON– Aside from the sounds of a basketball hitting the hardwood, the crowd inside Dayton Arena was staid, anxiously awaiting the 9:30 tip off to the Dayton-Rhode Island game.
And then, out of nowhere, a small throng of red painted bodies wearing gaudy sunglasses chanted, “We’re not leaving!!! We’re not leaving!!!”
By establishing its stifling zone and riding the torrid shooting of junior guard Brian Polk, Temple erased any doubts it was going to be one and done in this year’s Atlantic 10 tournament by stomping on the Richmond Spiders in convincing fashion Thursday afternoon, 66-52.
While the arena stood quiet, the feisty Temple contingent of 15 or so faithful made its presence heard. The Owls’ win sets up a semifinal matchup with top-seeded Xavier tonight. The Musketeers crushed the Owls 96-65 in Cincinnati last Saturday in the regular season finale.
It looked early on as if both teams would struggle to hit the 50-point mark. But Temple (14-14) began hitting shots with consistency early in the second half, scoring 12 unanswered points, half of which came on two Polk bombs. The Owls held Richmond (15-13) without a field goal for over 10 minutes in the second half as Temple coach John Chaney chose to use a smaller lineup.
Freshman forward Antywane Robinson, who was playing in his first game since spraining his ankle against North Carolina State back on February 15, logged 23 minutes, contributing eight rebounds and two blocked shots. Temple’s two biggest players, 7-foot freshman center Keith Butler and 6-9 power forward Glen Elliott, saw almost no playing time in the game’s final 12 minutes.
“I think (Robinson) gives us a good presence and a flexible presence in the middle, where we don’t get that with the other guys that play in the middle,” Chaney said.
When the Spiders tried mounting a comeback with just over five minutes left, Polk caught fire, completing back-to-back three-point plays and a layup in the span of just over a minute, giving the Owls a 58-42 lead.
Inserted into the starting lineup after Robinson’s injury, Polk has thrived, averaging nearly 18 points in the seven games he’s started. He’s led the team in scoring in four of the seven games and led all scorers Thursday afternoon with 23 points. Junior guard David Hawkins chipped in 16 points and senior forward Alex Wesby added 10 points and eight rebounds.
Addressing the media after the game, Polk explained why he’s been playing better. At least he tried.
“The more time I get, taking more shots and playing defense and getting comfortable out there …” Polk began.
That was all he could get out before his coach cut him off.
“Playing what?” Chaney said, incredulously.
Chaney was his usual flippant self. He even asked Wesby to shoot poorly against Xavier, because some of his better shooting performances this year have come when the Owls have gotten hammered.
But it was defense that catapulted Temple to victory against Richmond. Despite shooting just 40 percent from the field, the Owls held the Spiders to 38 percent, giving themselves a perfect 10-0 record in games where they outshoot their opponents.
The Spiders were a woeful 1-for-10 from beyond the arc in the second half. Small forward Mike Skrocki was 1-for-8, and Tony Robbins was 0-for-6.
“We had some open shots, but we couldn’t knock them down,” Richmond coach Jerry Wainwright said. “Once we got to that point we had to play catch-up, and we haven’t been good at doing that this year.”
Temple had arguably its worst game of the season when these two teams met back on Jan. 11, scoring a paltry 12 points in the first half en route to a 61-42 defeat.
“We looked at the tape and the way we played in Richmond was horrible,” sophomore forward Hawley Smith said. “We played our worst basketball there.”
But that was a raw and unrefined Owls squad that was devoid of an identity. The Temple team Richmond saw Thursday looked much different.
And if the Owls plan on advancing to Saturday’s tournament championship, they must show Xavier what they showed the Spiders.

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