The members of the men’s basketball team long ago resigned to the fact they must win the Atlantic Ten Conference Championship to earn a bid into the NCAA Tournament. So the Owls’ win over La Salle on Saturday did little more than help them polish up on the basics before next week’s conference playoffs.
The Owls (15-12, 11-5) beat the Explorers, 73-67, to conclude the regular season. Though the Explorers (9-18, 5-11) largely exceeded expectations this season after losing their coach and two key players to a scandal last summer, the Owls had high postseason hopes that haven’t come to pass.
The A-10s commence Wednesday, and the Owls must win out.
“That’s kind of what I told the guys,” junior guard Mardy Collins said. “There is no tomorrow. We’ve got to come into practice, come into games, just focused on basketball. That’s how we’ll move on.”
The Owls have a first-round bye, having finished second in the A-10 East Division standings. They will face the winner of Dayton and St. Bonaventure’s first-round game. The Bonnies, who finished the season with just one conference win, will probably bow to the Flyers. That means the Owls would face Dayton (17-10, 10-6) in the postseason for the second time in three years.
Acting coach Dan Leibovitz, filling in during coach John Chaney’s suspension, said the Owls must prepare for a tough game. He said their eight-point victory over the Flyers on Feb. 9 meant little now.
“The ammo you use when you beat a team the first time is that it’s not as easy the second time,” Leibovitz said.
With the exception of their coach, the Owls should be at full strength by then. Sophomore guard Dustin Salisbery sat out all of Saturday’s game with a “tweaked” ankle, according to Leibovitz.
Salisbery is one of three Owls averaging double figures in scoring. The others are Collins and freshman guard Mark Tyndale, who landed hard on his tailbone early in the first half but returned to fill up the stat sheet with six points, six assists and five rebounds in 34 minutes.
As Collins goes, so go the Owls, whether Salisbery and Tyndale are at full strength or not. Collins scored a game-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Explorers. He shot 9-for-16 from the field, hitting at least half his shots for the first time in four games. Not coincidentally, the Owls shot .462, their best team field goal percentage since Feb. 12.
“[La Salle] has a great player in Steve Smith,” Leibovitz said. “But I’d take [Collins] over anybody in the league.”
Smith, the Explorer’s all-conference forward, had 20 points and six rebounds. He was one of three Explorers, including guards Darnell Harris and Jermaine Thomas, to play all 40 minutes.
Smith and Collins are the top candidates for A-10 Player of the Year honors, but Collins said his mind is not on the award.
“I’m not really thinking about that at all,” Collins said. “Our whole goal is to win the A-10 tournament and get into the NCAAs.”
Temple fans bid farewell to senior guard Wilbur Allen on Saturday. Allen joined the Owls as a walk-on prior to the 2001-2002 season and became one of the most popular bench players in Temple history.
Public address announcer Merv Jones introduced Allen, the team’s lone senior, before the game Saturday. Allen will not be remembered for his stats, Jones said, but for “his leadership and engaging smile.”
He started the game and had three points and one assist in seven minutes.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com.