Men’s basketball lost its chance to clinch the A-10 regular season title and Big-5 title in a 82-72 defeat at St. Joseph’s on Saturday night.
The No. 22 Temple men’s basketball team had its hands full for the second time this season in trying to guard St. Joseph’s sophomore forward Ronald Roberts, Jr. on Saturday night.
In the Owls’ first game against the Hawks at home on Jan. 28, Roberts, Jr. scored 17 points and picked up 10 rebounds, five of them offensively. On Saturday night at the Hagan Arena, Roberts, Jr. had a similar performance with 18 points and seven rebounds.
The difference between his two performances is that the latter game came in a win.
Roberts Jr. helped lead the way for St. Joe’s (19-11, 9-6 Atlantic 10 Conference) in the Hawks’ 82-72 victory against Temple (22-6, 11-3 A-10). The loss ended the Big 5 season for both teams, with the Hawks (3-1 Big 5) and Owls (3-1 Big 5) sharing the title this year.
“[Roberts, Jr.] is a very physical guy, a very athletic guy,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I didn’t think we challenged him nearly enough, didn’t get to spots enough. He’s a very competitive guy and plays very hard and we needed to meet that challenge and I don’t think we did.”
St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said his players got up more for a game against the nationally ranked, first-place Owls.
“We stared in the eyes of a champion,” Martelli said. “They’re going to win the regular season. They’re going to be a very high seed. They’re going to be a tough out in March. They’re going to Atlantic City [N.J.] with the idea of bringing home the gold trophy.”
Temple didn’t lead by more than three and struggled on both sides of the court all night by committing what Dunphy called “out-of-character mistakes.”
The Owls’ trio of starting guards, junior guard Khalif Wyatt, senior guard Juan Fernandez and redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore, were held to a combined 10-for-30 shooting from the floor and combined for 29 points, more than 17 points below their average.
“You have to take shots and make plays that are high-percentage plays,” Dunphy said. “We took a couple of shots tonight that were 10-percenters. That gets you in deep trouble, trying to force a shot. We shot a jump hook in the first half from 13 feet. That’s got maybe a five to seven percent chance of going in.”
“Stay in character, think about the team,” Dunphy added. “Don’t ever think about yourself because it’s not about you, it’s about the program overall and hopefully we’ll be okay. Hopefully we’ll learn from this and move on.”
After cutting an early 14-point St. Joe’s lead to five at halftime, Temple was crippled in the second half by foul trouble. The Owls tied a season-high by committing 26 fouls. Graduate center Micheal Eric, junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Fernandez and Wyatt had four apiece.
“We did a couple of really foolish things to get ourselves into foul trouble,” Dunphy said. “Like [Fernandez’s] third foul, you can’t be there, you can’t do that. 90 feet from the basket we’re committing a foul. For what? That’s the out-of-character things. Not only on offense where we shot some shots that we should not have attempted, but we did some things on defense. We didn’t pay attention to our details.”
The Owls led by a three-point margin a little more than five minutes into the second half before the Hawks went on a 5-0 run to retake the lead. Temple cut the lead to one twice more, but were never able to get it back.
Both coaches pointed to that stretch as a crucial sequence.
“We took a timeout and there was no panic among the group,” Martelli said. “It was defense that had let us down. Then [sophomore forward C.J. Aiken] took over the lane. That stretch, with the three bigs on the floor, took us over the top.”
“We needed to be tougher,” Dunphy said. “We needed to stay in character. We did it for a stretch, got ourselves a three-point lead, but gave up an offensive rebound and because they’re pretty good they took advantage of our missteps.”
After beating the Hawks by 18 at home in January, the Owls dropped their third in-conference game on Saturday by 10.
“We knew coming in that this game would be different,” Moore said. “Last game we got out to a lead and they weren’t able to get back into the game. We knew coming that they’d be ready. We knew what to expect from them. Plus the hype of it being a Big-5 game and us being ranked. We knew what to expect, but you have to give them credit, they played pretty well.”
“Every game is so different that you play,” Dunphy added. “Their home court was one of the differences. I thought we got out of character offensively. What that leads to is really good offense for the other side.”
The loss snapped Temple’s 11-game winning streak. But the Owls can clinch the A-10 regular season title with a win in either of their two remaining regular season games before the A-10 Tournament kicks off in Atlantic City, N.J. on March 9.
“We’ll dwell on it immeasurably on Monday,” Dunphy said. “We’ll watch every play on Monday. When we lose, we watch every play. I’m not sure it’s helping them, but it’s helping me. I’m not worried about them too much, I’m worried about me.”
The Owls’ loss will prompt debate on whether it’s better to enter the NCAA Tournament on a long winning streak or if teams benefit from getting a loss out of their system. Dunphy responded to the latter argument.
“Human nature is that you get their attention more after a loss than after a win, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Dunphy said. “But you’d rather not learn from a defeat, you’d rather learn from a win. But we didn’t deserve to win tonight. We weren’t tough enough. We weren’t smart enough. We weren’t knowledgeable enough of who we are to win a game like this against a really good basketball team.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.