It didn’t appear that Temple was going to be in for a close game when it trailed Saint Joseph’s by 14 points with about 15 minutes remaining Sunday night.
But once the Owls rallied within a point of the lead behind a 20-6 run over the next 10 minutes, it must’ve felt like Déjà vu all over again, as Hall of Fame New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once allegedly said.
The Owls survived yet another heart-stopping barnburner of an Atlantic Ten Conference game, escaping with a 57-56 win over St. Joe’s in front of 8,722 fans jammed into the sweltering, oven-like basketball arena known as the Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus.
Thanks to senior guard Mark Tyndale’s game-winning layup with 21 seconds left in the contest, the Owls (16-12, 2-1 Big 5) improved to 9-5 in the A-10 and obtained sole possession of second place in the conference standings, right behind No. 9 Xavier (25-4, 13-1 A-10).
“These guys, they’ve worked hard. They’ve taken my B.S. throughout the whole season and I’m happy for them that they’ve put themselves in this type of situation,” coach Fran Dunphy said.
With the win, the Owls secured their third conference victory in a game that was decided by two points or less. The other two wins came in overtime triumphs over Saint Louis and Massachusetts.
Temple is 3-3 in conference games that were decided by two points or less this season, with the trio of losses coming against Charlotte, St. Joe’s and Fordham.
Unlike that previous matchup with the Hawks (17-10, 8-6, 2-2 Big 5) when senior forward Pat Calathes nailed a game-winning three pointer to give visiting St. Joe’s a 68-67 win over Temple at the Liacouras Center, the Owls didn’t falter down the stretch this time.
Tyndale, who missed the front end of a crucial one-and-one free throw attempt at the end of the last game between the storied Big 5 rivals, said the team felt more comfortable in the waning seconds of Sunday’s contest.
“I think coach Dunphy gave us the energy because he just told us, ‘Stay positive, this is what we play for’ and he just said, ‘How much fun is this?’” said Tyndale, who scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the second half. He finished with a team high 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
Despite Tyndale’s comments, Dunphy said he didn’t feel absolutely stress-free in those final seconds.
“It [was] an eternity to be honest with you,” he said. “We were standing in the locker room [afterwards] and I figured somebody was coming back in to say, ‘Listen, we’re not done yet. We haven’t finished this game yet.’”
Tyndale, who laughed after Dunphy said that, agreed with his coach.
“That last 20 seconds was the longest 20 seconds of my life, I promise you,” he said.
Tyndale might be used to this type of game by now, though. He has received the ball in pressure situations several times this season.
Although he failed to come through in the clutch against St. Joe’s earlier in the season, Tyndale nailed a game-winning three-pointer to knock off Eastern Michigan and dished the ball off to fellow senior Chris Clark for a game-winning triple against Ohio earlier this season.
“I appreciate [Coach] giving me the ball in the end,” Tyndale said. “It’s my job to make a great decision.”
“The coaching staff does a great job of putting us in those [close-game] situations in practice,” he added.
In a tight contest against St. Joe’s in the legendary Palestra, Dunphy said the team had no choice but to feel excited at the end.
“There’s 8,722 [fans] going crazy, it’s hot as hell, it’s just fantastic,” the second-year coach said. “The atmosphere’s fantastic. You’ve got you’re biggest rival, and we haven’t beaten them in a while … What else do you want? You’ve got a real close basketball game with two great teams out there. Let’s just go play and see what happens at the end.”
The Hawks had held a five-game winning streak over the Owls and had won 12 of the last 13 meetings heading into Sunday’s game.
NIVENS HOT, THEN NOT
The Owls struggled to contain St. Joe’s junior Ahmad Nivens in the first half, as the 6-foot-9 center scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting before intermission.
Nivens got lost in the shuffle in the second half, though, as he only got one more shot up and finished the game with 11 points.
“We were rushed a little bit. The floor seemed crowded,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said, elaborating on why Nivens didn’t get looks after halftime. “The ball wasn’t being reversed real easily in the second half.”
Dunphy credited his frontcourt starters, junior center Sergio Olmos and freshman forward Lavoy Allen, for helping to shut down Nivens in the second half.
“They’re getting to be pretty good defensive basketball players and if they can stay out of foul trouble that would be terrific,” he said.
With its 16th victory of the season, the Owls have notched their highest regular-season win total since 2001. For the record, Temple reached the Elite Eight that year … Temple improved to 2-1 in the Big 5 by defeating St. Joe’s Sunday. The (2-1) at Tom Gola Arena March 8. The Owls have not won a Big 5 crown since they shared the title with Villanova in 2005. Temple hasn’t outright won a city series title since 1996 … The student sections for both schools unveiled rollout banners throughout the contests, which is a traditional gesture at all Big 5 games. Among the deeper digs was a Temple rollout which read, “There’s no place like home: Get one,” and a St. Joe’s rollout which played off of Dionte Christmas’s name, reading, “You can’t spell Dionte w/o N.I.T.” … This was the 145th meeting between Temple and St. Joe’s. The Owls lead the all-time series, 81-64.
“Everything was fine until you give up a straight line layup at the end there.” – St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, on his assessment of the second half.
The Owls will host Duquesne at the Liacouras Center Wednesday at 7 p.m. It will be the final home game for Temple seniors Tyndale, Clark and Orlando Miller.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.