ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Survive and advance.
That’s the name of the game in tournament basketball.
And it’s exactly what the men’s basketball team did Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship at Boardwalk Hall.
The Owls withstood late a Saint Joseph’s charge and beat the Hawks, 79-65. It was the third time this season Temple beat its arch-rivals and the fifth time in a row overall. The Owls advance to tomorrow night’s semifinal to face top seed Xavier, which beat Saint Louis, 66-47, this afternoon.
“We’re thrilled to win the game against a great rival of ours,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We know what we’re faced with tomorrow.”
Temple (20-11 overall) was fronted by junior guard Ryan Brooks, who hit for 19 points, including 3-4 shooting from beyond the 3-point line. Senior center Sergio Olmos chipped in with 14 points and nine rebounds, while both senior guard Semaj Inge and sophomore forward Craig Williams added 12 points.
Brooks’ day was a marked improvement from his previous two games against the Hawks, as he shot a combined 0-10 from the field in the contests at the Palestra and the Liacouras Center.
Perhaps it was the “do or die” atmosphere of the A-10 Tournament that helped the Narberth, Pa. product turn his game around.
“I just see it as playoff time, win or go home,” Brooks said. “I don’t want to go home, I know my teammates and the coaching don’t want to go home as well. These are games you look forward to.”
Williams clearly felt the same way, as he shot 4-7 from downtown and was a true spark, along with freshman guard Juan Fernandez, in the Owls’ first half run which put them up for good.
After the Owls fell down early, Williams helped lead a 23-5 spurt which turned a six point deficit into a 12 point advantage. The reserve big man hit the trey that gave the Owls their first lead and the trey that prompted St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
“He does give us that dimension that we don’t have when he’s not in the game,” Dunphy said. “I think he’s hard to guard. He has a knack for finding open areas where he can get shots. He just knows what he’s doing.”
The Owls extended the lead to 15 points at halftime and to as large as 22 points midway through the second half. But then, the Hawks started chipping away.
With senior guard Dionte Christmas, who finished a disastrous 1-10 from the field with just seven points, in foul trouble, St. Joe’s went on a 20-7 run to get Temple’s lead into single digits.
The Owls’ co-captain wound up fouling out, but according to Christmas, the mere fact that his team did so well without much contribution from him said a lot about the Owls as a unit.
“You can’t be perfect every night,” Christmas said. “But when I got teammates like this that are backing me up every step I’m going, it’s hard to get mad.”
Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen helped calm Christmas’ nerves, despite suffering from an ankle injury Tuesday in practice. He was a game-time decision and finished with nine points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
Allen re-entered the game with 4:31 left and team up by nine and quickly hit two field goals to halt the Hawks’ charge.
“He got two big baskets right away, one just on an impossible tip-in,” Dunphy said. “It really helped us greatly. I’m very proud of him today.”
“We were struggling at that time,” Allen added. “We were up 16 or 15 and it came down to 9, so it was a big moment in the game.”
As for the sprain, well, Allen says that it isn’t a big concern.
“It’s still good,” he said. “I’ll be ready tomorrow.”
The Owls’ contest against Xavier is set to tipoff at 6:30 p.m. The game can be seen in the Philadelphia area on CN8.
Game Notes: The Temple student section, which significantly outnumbered the St. Joe’s student section, made a couple of rollouts for the game…One student had a blown-up headshot of Christmas, which the senior guard said he liked…The crowd was announced at 4,837…St. Joe’s was led by senior guard Tasheed Carr and senior center Ahmad Nivens, who had 23 and 21 points, respectively…Temple advanced to 9-2 in the A-10 Tournament against St. Joe’s.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.
Front Page Photo: John Mehler, TTN.