ATLANTA, Ga.– For the fifth time in 19 years, John Chaney’s Temple Owls were “sweet” and “elite,” but fell just short of making the Final Four.
But this time around there was no “Alaskan Assassin” or Fab Five standing in Temple’s way. Instead it was a relative unknown by the name of David Thomas.
The senior forward scored a career-high 19 points on eight-of-10 shooting as the deeper, more-talented Michigan State Spartans outlasted Temple en route to a 69-62 victory.
Coming into the game, the Owls (24-13) wanted to focus on their interior defense and designate Thomas as the person they wanted shooting the ball. On paper he appeared to be the typical match-up zone victim. The senior averaged only five points per game and hadn’t hit a three-pointer since January.
But on Sunday, the scouting report backfired.
“David Thomas was definitely a guy that we thought we could live with taking the shots because that was something he wasn’t used to,” Wadley said after the game. “But he did what all guys should do. When given the opportunity, he stepped up knocked down those shots.”
The Spartans (28-4) came at Temple with all of their big guns early. At times it seemed as if the defending national champions were utilizing a 42-man roster instead of 12.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo rotated players in and out of every dead ball in an attempt to wear down the Owls. Seven Spartans played 17 minutes or more compared to Temple, whose five starters played no less than 34 minutes.
But to this year’s team, it didn’t matter. You knew that as long as the other team only put five players on the court at one time, the feisty Owls had a fighting chance.
“We had a lot of ups and downs this year,” Chaney said. “Here our youngsters were counted out in their own city, and they got all the way to the Elite Eight. That was a tremendous team we were playing. One missed rebound, [or] one loose ball and [the outcome] could have been different.”
Eventually, size did matter. The Spartans out rebounded opponents this season by an average margin of 15 boards a game, the largest margin of any team in 20 years. They stayed true to form in rebounding Temple 39-25.
Thomas found his rhythm early as he scored eight early points to give Michigan State an 18-7 lead midway through the first half.
Temple, like they have done all postseason, answered with a 12-3 run to end the half to cut the lead to 30-27. Kevin Lyde had 14 first half points in that stretch, and finished the game with 21 points and eight rebounds.
The Spartans scored 12 of the first 16 points in the second half to once again stretch the lead to double-digits at 42-31. But the Owls had their chances. Temple made one last run to cut the lead to 55-51 at the seven-minute mark behind back-to-back three pointers by Lynn Greer and Alex Wesby.
On the next couple of possessions, Temple had chances cut the lead even farther, but Wesby’s three-point attempt and David Hawkins’ baseline jumper rimmed out on both occasions. From there, the Owls never got any closer than four points as the two teams traded baskets and free throws the rest of the way.
Lynn Greer led all scorers with 22 points, while Michigan State’s Charlie Bell and Jason Richardson chipped in 14 and 11 points, respectively.
The South Regional All-Tournament Team consisted of Greer and Bell in the backcourt, along with big men Lyde, Thomas, and Gonzaga center Casey Calvary–who scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Zags Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State.
In the other Sweet 16 game, Temple used an early 18-point lead to hold off Penn State, 84-72. Lynn Greer led all scorers with 21 points.
(bold) Coaching carousel
Villanova coach Steve Lappas, long an object of Temple fans’ disdain, recently resigned as the Wildcats’ head man after nine years. But before anybody at Temple or St. Joe’s started to regret not having Lappas to hate any longer, he turned up with the Massachusetts job that James “Bruiser” Flint recently vacated.
So now Temple will face Lappas twice a season instead of once.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic 10, St. Bonaventure coach Jim Baron jumped from his alma mater to the University of Rhode Island, where Jerry DeGregorio resigned after his second season.
Darrelle Porter stepped down as Duquesne’s head coach, but the Dukes haven’t named a replacement yet.
Closer to home, the search continues for the successor to ousted LaSalle coach James “Speedy” Morris. Flint and Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlan are among those rumored to be interested.
Villanova wasted little time in replacing Lappas with former Hofstra head coach and ‘Nova assistant Jay Wright. The Big East has a couple of other coaching openings, both fresh and not-so-fresh.
St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said he’ll talk to Rutgers about its vacancy but that he doesn’t want to leave Hawk Hill. And in a move that surprised few, Seton Hall head coach Tommy Amaker announced Wednesday that he is leaving to fill the opening at the University of Michigan.