The men’s basketball team was on its way to a huge win over Saint Joseph’s.
Then, it started shooting free-throws.
Miss after miss and Hawks bucket after Hawks bucket sent the Palestra into a slowly building frenzy.
At the end, Hawks’ junior guard Tasheed Carr had a chance to win the game, but his running 3-pointer hit nothing but glass, and when the buzzer sounded, the Owls let out one of the biggest sighs of relief in Palestra history.
Temple had held on for a 61-59 win Thursday night in the historic arena, as it advanced to 14-9 overall and 6-3 in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
The Owls led 56-46 with 54 seconds to go but proceeded to miss six out of their next 12 free-throw attempts to give the Hawks a chance at the end.
Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen, who played solid defense on Hawks’ senior forward Ahmad Nivins, missed three of his four free-throw attempts in that stretch, going 1-for-6 in the contest. Though, he did finish with five points, three blocks and eight rebounds.
What made things more interesting was the Owls didn’t attempt a free-throw until 2:28 remained in the second half, as they finished 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) in the game. That’s well under their pre-game average of 72.5 percent.
In all, what should have been a fairly dominating Owls victory turned into a nail-biting, near epic-collapse.
“Obviously we didn’t do a very good job of shooting [free-throws] down the stretch,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “We [didn’t] finish at the foul line throughout the later part of the game, and that was disappointing because we’re typically a decent foul-shooting team.”
The final possession might be played over hundreds of times tomorrow in the Hawks locker room, as Carr took his running 3-pointer with a few seconds left on the clock.
Still, the sequence was a nervous one for Dunphy, as one can only ponder what was going through his mind.
“[That Carr] wasn’t going to make the shot,” he said. “It looked like Phil was a little angry that he took it a little early, it looked maybe he had another bounce in him. But we’re just lucky that we got out of here with a victory, no question about it.”
That luck didn’t attribute to the Hawks’ late-game defense of senior guard Dionte Christmas, who only had one opportunity to shoot free throws down stretch, as St. Joe’s (14-9, 7-2) double-teamed him after each of their made buckets.
The Owls’ co-captain finished with a double-double, his fourth of the year, adding 19 points and 11 rebounds—all of which were defensive.
With the Hawks taking the ball out of his hands, it was up to Christmas to encourage his teammates.
“[I told them] just to stay focused, to stay poised, and I just kept telling the guys that,” Christmas said. “The seniors on the court just kept trying to keep everyone level-headed. Things like that happen, typically we’re a good foul-shooting team, but tonight, it just wasn’t our night.”
But he wasn’t making excuses.
“We just got to make those shots,” Christmas said. “[St. Joe’s] did a great job at the free-throw line, there was no reason we shouldn’t have.”
The Owls were in the position of leading by double-digits with under a minute due to an 18-0 run that lasted from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second.
During that stretch, senior guard Semaj Inge, whose 11 points and three 3-pointers all came in the first 20 minutes, was key, hitting trey’s with no one remotely close to him.
“Some of them I was like, ‘god, did I travel?’ Inge said. “So, yea, I was kind of shocked at how open I was.”
Yet, in all, it was another legendary game at the Palestra, with a packed house, rollouts and two sets of student sections going nuts.
Basically everything that Big 5 basketball should be.
“To come in here with this atmosphere, St. Joe’s fans going crazy, our fans going crazy, you know, this is great,” Christmas said. “You live for this. This is one of the reasons I came to a Big 5 school. To come out with the win makes it even better.”
The Owls return to action Sunday at 2 p.m. to battle Duquesne. The game will be televised by CBS College Sports.
The Owls remain in fourth place in the A-10 standings, one game behind St. Joe’s and a game and a half behind Xavier and Dayton…Junior guard Ryan Brooks missed all eight of his field goal attempts…Both teams had just six turnovers…One of Temple’s rollouts ended being a little bit of foreshadowing, as it read: Your Carr has no clutch.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.