With 19 seconds separating John Chaney from one of his greatest triumphs as Temple coach, Owl freshman David Hawkins fell to the floor after a loose ball. He then gingerly stood and limped over to Chaney during a Quincy Wadley free throw attempt.
Here is how their brief conversation went, according to Chaney:
“Coach, I just sprained my ankle,” Hawkins said.
“Goddamnit, look at the clock. Find out what time it is,” Chaney replied.
“Yeah, it’s NCAA time,” Hawkins said.
“So get back out there [and] break a leg,” Chaney said.
Hawkins stumbled back on the court, and he and his teammates ended up cutting down the First Union Spectrum nets in last week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament for the second year in a row. As a result, the 11th seeded Owls gained an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and will do the two-step against sixth-seeded Texas in the first round on Friday at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
The Owls’ road to the championship was not easy. It first took Lynn Greer’s heroics to pull the Owls from the depths of defeat.
Temple trailed semifinal opponent George Washington 76-74 with a little over nine seconds remaining in the semifinal game. As Greer went for the win, GW’s Patrick Ngongba fouled him at the three-point line, giving Greer three free throw attempts to ice the game before a national ESPN audience and a packed house at the First Union Spectrum.
If he missed all three free throws or only converted one, he would have been blamed for sending the Owls packing for the National Invitation Tournament. If he made two, he would have gone par for the course and forced overtime.
But instead, Greer wrote himself into Temple legend by sinking all three attempts, and the Colonials, lifting the Owls to their third straight A-10 championship game.
“That’s something all kids dream about,” Greer said after Friday night’s 77-76 victory. “When I was going up there, I thought about that. I’d dream about that [situation].”
The free throws proved to be even more valuable 24 hours later as the Owls disposed fourth-seeded Massachusetts, 76-65, in the championship final. Greer carried his momentum into the championship game as he and backcourt mate Quincy Wadley scored a game-high 20 points apiece.
Coming into the tournament, conventional wisdom said that Temple had to win at least two games to get into the NCAA Tournament.
This formula assumed that Temple would get an opportunity to defeat Xavier in the semifinals and play, win or lose, St. Joe’s in the championship game.
George Washington defeated the Musketeers 83-74 in the quarterfinal round, while Massachusetts pulled off the upset of the tournament, surprising No. 18 St. Joe’s, 75-70, in the other semifinal game.
With the surprising Minutemen also playing for the automatic bid, Temple’s championship final against its archrival was now a must-win situation. Even with an expanded 65-team field this year, there was very little chance the A-10 would get four bids into the tournament.
“We shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with,” Hawkins told the Inquirer on Selection Sunday. “But now that it’s all over with, we’re where we wanted to be.”
Temple took control of the title game early by jumping out to a 30-19 lead with 4:19 remaining. But the feisty Minutemen, like they have done all postseason, answered with a 12-2 run to close Temple’s lead to 32-31 at intermission.
From there the lead changed hands six times in the second half until Kevin Lyde’s two free throws put the game at arms length at 70-65 with 49 seconds remaining. Lyde started a string of eight straight free throws to end the game, as the Owls won their sixth A-10 championship.
Despite his toughest season in years, the usually grimacing face of John Chaney was finally smiling with the knowledge that he had reached the NCAA Tournament for the 12th straight time.
“I think it’s extraordinary,” Chaney said. “After we lost four players from last year’s team, the expectations for Temple are [still] very high. You try to keep throwing it back in their face that we were only a minute away from beating Duke, and [eventually] they will look in the mirror and see winning as opposed to losing.”
The Owls also defeated Dayton, 76-63, in the quarterfinal round before edging George Washington in the semis and beating the Minutemen in the finals.
Around the A-10
Temple players took home a lot of hardware this week. The All-Tournament team consisted of Greer, Wadley and Lyde of Temple, along with Monty Mack and Kitwana Rhymer of Massachusetts.
Greer was also the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and made First Team All-Conference and the All-Defensive team for the regular season.
Joining Greer on the first team were Rasual Butler of LaSalle, Monty Mack of Massachusetts, Marvin O’Connor of St. Joe’s, and the league’s Player of the Year, Xavier big man David West.
Kevin Lyde made Second Team All-Conference and Quincy Wadley rounded out the Third Team. Freshman David Hawkins was also voted to the All-Rookie team.
LaSalle’s William “Speedy” Morris of LaSalle and James “Bruiser” Flint of Massachusetts were fired this week.
Rumors had been swirling all year about the release of both coaches, but big wins down the stretch by Massachusetts led many to believe that at least Flint would be granted another year. Despite being one game away from the NCAA Tournament, the NIT committee did not invite Massachusetts to its postseason tournament, which probably sealed Flint’s fate.
In addition to Temple, four other A-10 teams will continue to dance in March. The NIT committee did choose St. Bonaventure and Dayton, and the NCAA gave both St. Joe’s and Xavier at-large bids.
Eleventh-seeded Xavier, one of the last teams to get in, will play sixth-seeded Notre Dame in the Midwest Region, and ninth-seeded St. Joe’s will face eight-seeded Georgia Tech in the West, with the winner likely advancing to meet top-ranked Stanford.