The Hawks reached the final by upsetting Xavier in the first semifinal game Friday. The Owls simply needed to win their semifinal match-up against Charlotte to make the A-10 championship game a Philadelphia showdown.
They did. And when the final buzzer sounded on the Owls’ 60-45 win, the rivalry was not only renewed, but raised to a level it has never reached.
For the first time, the Owls and Hawks will battle for the A-10 Championship and its coveted reward, an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“What more could you ask for?” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re going to play for the championship against our biggest rival. This is what it’s about.”
Both teams probably need to win to punch its ticket to the Big Dance, though the Owls’ situation is a little more desperate than the Hawks.
That’s because the Hawks upset top-seeded Xavier, ranked No. 10 in the nation, for the second time in less than 10 days. Their NCAA resume includes a big non-conference win against Villanova and two tight losses to Syracuse and Gonzaga.
The Owls played a tougher non-conference schedule, but didn’t come up with any significant wins. They did beat Xavier, though, and used a strong finish to clinch second place in a very competitive A-10.
But enough about NCAA hopes, already.
This game promises so much excitement merely from the fashion in which the teams’ two meetings unraveled.
To refresh, Mark Tyndale missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw with the Owls clinging to a 67-65 lead with 17 seconds left in the first meeting at the Liacouras Center. Pat Calathes then drilled a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left to hand the Hawks a 68-67 comeback victory.
In the rematch, Tyndale capped a 14-point comeback by driving through the lane for a game-winning layup with 22.3 seconds left. The Owls exited the Palestra with a 57-56 win.
Still, there needed to be a third game between the schools to determine which team could claim itself the better squad. Now that game is here. And it’s going to put a Philadelphia team into the NCAA Tourney.
Only one of the current players on either team – Saint Joseph’s Arvydas Lidzius – has ever appeared in an NCAA Tournament game.
The Hawks haven’t reached the Big Dance since 2004, when they made the Elite Eight. The Owls’ NCAA drought has been longer, having failed to get back after losing in the Elite Eight in 2001.
This is as close as Tyndale, a senior, has ever come to the Tournament. The Owls haven’t reached the A-10 final since 2003, his junior year of high school.
“I’m feeling good,” Tyndale said after posting 20 points and 15 rebounds against the 49ers. “I’ve got a chance to get to the Tournament. I couldn’t feel no better.”
Beating the Hawks and finally reaching the NCAA Tournament would probably make raise his spirits even more. But topping Saint Joe’s has been one of the most difficult tasks for Temple to accomplish during Tyndale’s tenure.
The Owls have lost 12 of their last 14 games in the city-series. Tyndale has been a part of eight of those losses. Two of them eliminated the Owls from the A-10 Tournament.
Now, the stakes between the Owls and Hawks are the highest they’ve ever been.
Though the teams have met in the A-10 tournament nine times, with Temple owning a 7-2 mark, they’ve never met in the final. But the Hawks have knocked the Owls out of the A-10 Tournament the last two seasons.
“It’s going to be crazy out there,” Ryan Brooks said. “It’s definitely going to be a war. The Temple-Saint Joe’s rivalry has gone a long way. Just to have an all-Philly final, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com
(Photo by Ron Davis)
Also read: “Round three”