Sometimes, the script plays out as intended.
On senior night, and with a first-round bye on the line in the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament, the men’s basketball team downed arch-rival Saint Joseph’s, 68-59, Thursday night at the Liacouras Center.
The Owls are now in tied for third place in the conference standings with Dayton. The Flyers have the tiebreaker, but a loss to Duquesne Saturday coupled with an Owls win would give Temple sole possession of third place.
As for the game, senior guard Dionte Christmas led the way with 23 points and eight rebounds. Senior center Sergio Olmos chipped in with 14 points, and sophomore forward Craig Williams added 11 points—including three 3-pointers.
The Owls fell down early in the contest, but a 20-6 run to close the first half put them up by seven. Christmas hit for 11 points to spark the charge.
The Hawks cut the lead to as little as two in the second half, but the Owls responded with the next 13 points of the contest. Williams hit two 3-pointers to lead the spurt, and Temple (18-11 overall, 10-5 A-10) coasted to victory.
While the win certainly pleased coach Fran Dunphy after his team’s effort last week against La Salle and Dayton, the fact that the Owls also picked up the bye was additionally high on his accomplishment list.
And perhaps a large chunk of that was due to Christmas.
“[The bye] is almost as important as winning the game tonight,” Dunphy said. “We need to re-establish ourselves a little bit. I thought our seniors were great tonight. Dionte in one stretch said that he was not going to let us lose.”
Christmas jumped at the chance to elaborate on his claim.
“Today I just told myself, no matter what happens, I wasn’t going to let my team lose today,” Christmas said. “One because this is a game that we must win…Another was my senior night, this is my last game here, and I didn’t want to go out the wrong way.”
With that, emotions were running high, as he, Inge and Olmos were honored before the game. Christmas claimed that himself and his fellow seniors attempted to keep everything in check.
“I just tried to put my emotions aside and run out there and play,” Christmas said. “I thought my other two seniors did a great job of that too. Semaj had a great game today, Sergio played well. I thought I did a good job today, so with all the emotions going on I just tried to put those aside and take care of business.”
The business, for Olmos, was taking care of St. Joe’s (15-14, 8-7) senior forward Ahmad Nivens.
Nivens had 17 points and 16 rebounds in the contest, but shot 6-16 from the field in order to do so. Many of those were missed layups or missed tip-ins, but according to Olmos, it was still a job well done.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” Olmos said on his performance against Nivens. “And my teammates also helped me. I think it was a great team effort.”
With sophomore forward Lavoy Allen battling foul trouble, as he played just 15 minutes and registered just four points and four rebounds, the role of handling the Hawks’ top player was left to the lanky center from Valencia, Spain.
“He didn’t get a whole lot of help, for the most part,” Dunphy said. “I thought Sergio was terrific. As good as he was offensively, and he was very good, I thought he was terrific defensively.”
Williams played 26 minutes and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds to assist Olmos in the effort, as he played more minutes than usual and had a larger role than usual due to Allen’s inability to say on the floor.
Still, with the frontcourt’s effort and continued defensive play of junior guard Ryan Brooks, Dunphy was pleased.
“I thought throughout the later part of the second half we did what we wanted to do defensively,” he said.
The Owls icing the game on the free-throw line, something they couldn’t do the last time these two teams met, also made the third-year coach a happy man.
“That was a little bit more pleasing to the soul than the last time we played them,” Dunphy said.
But now, with just one game left and their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes squashed, the focus is all on the A-10 Tournament next weekend in Atlantic City, N.J.
“Our mindset is just to win the Tournament,” Christmas said. “We don’t anything less than to win that Atlantic Ten Tournament.”
The Owls close out their regular season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. against George Washington in Washington, D.C. A-10 Tournament play begins next Thursday.
Game Notes: The announced crowd of 9,349 was the largest of the year, and featured a beyond-full student section…The win sealed with Owls’ Big 5 record at 2-2, good for third place…Olmos and St. Joe’s senior guard Tasheed Carr got into a minor scuffle late in the second half, but teammates quickly interceded to avoid further damage…The student section had plenty of rollouts, but with a small St. Joe’s student section, there were no responses.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.