On Feb. 25, 2012, Temple allowed an 18-11 St. Joseph’s University team to end the Owls’ 11-game win streak. In the grand scheme of things, the loss held minimal value.
The loss gave Temple a share of the Big 5 title instead of the outright crown, but the No. 22 ranked Owls had already solidified their place in the NCAA tournament and as the Atlantic 10 Conference’s top seed. The loss was their only one in the final 14 regular season games and proved to be a minor speed bump in the path to the postseason.
Last Thursday, Feb. 21, when Temple took on La Salle at the Liacouras Center, the script was reversed.
“This is probably the most excited I have been to play in a while,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said after the game. “Everybody was talking about the game, and it was for the Big 5 Championship. We needed [the win], and it showed a little bit.”
With an 82-74 win against the Explorers, the Owls were able to hold onto their NCAA tournament hopes while winning a share of the Big 5 Championship for the second straight year. In a season that has fallen short of expectations, winning the title of Philadelphia’s best team could provide comfort in a potentially solemn year.
“Any time you can be a part of a championship or co-championship in this city is really important,” coach Fran Dunphy said after the La Salle game. “That is the nicest thing that happened to us tonight. Obviously we win another league game, but we also got a share of a title that is very meaningful to all of the people that have followed the Big 5 for so many years.”
The Owls’ most recent Big 5 title added to their all-time leading total of 27. The championship is given to the team with the best overall record in Big 5 regular season games as opposed to a tournament. No tiebreaker is awarded for a head-to-head victory, leading to the Owls and Explorers splitting the title with a 3-1 record.
“This is a great rivalry within the city,” senior guard T.J. DiLeo said. “It’s a little something extra that you have besides the A-10. It just feels good to know that it came on such a big stage. There are some great teams in the Big 5. No matter what, we know every game coming in is going to be a battle. There are a lot of great teams in the city, and to finish up top feels great.”
Temple currently sits at fifth in the A-10, and is a bubble team with no guaranteed ticket to go dancing in March. In what is a step down for Temple from its position at this point last season, Philadelphia basketball as a whole has taken a step up in 2013.
If the season were to end today, three of the Big 5 teams would make the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN projections. Last year, Temple was Philadelphia’s only representative.
“I complement [La Salle coach John Giannini] in so many ways because he has really pushed [winning the Big 5] this year,” Dunphy said. “If you can be the best team in the city of Philadelphia then you have the chance to have a tremendous basketball season.”
The Owls were able to capture the coveted Big 5 title, but their ability to have a successful postseason is still left to be determined.
“Down the stretch we need all these wins,” Wyatt said. “Every win we get from here on out is going to be the best win we have ever had.”
The team controls its own destiny as it looks ahead to March. While capturing a Big 5 title is something to be proud of, the team said it doesn’t want the title to be the climax of its season.
“Maybe down the road [this can be something positive to look back on],” DiLeo said. “But in the short term the goal is the NCAA tournament. Maybe down the road we look back and say winning the Big 5 was good, but the NCAA tournament is what everybody here wants.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.