Temple darts by Dragons, 68-59

Temple and Drexel are located in the same city and about 40 blocks away from each other. Still, these teams don’t carry the same rivalry as the Owls do with their other Big 5 opponents

Temple and Drexel are located in the same city and about 40 blocks away from each other.

Still, these teams don’t carry the same rivalry as the Owls do with their other Big 5 opponents in Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle.

The sole reason is that these two schools haven’t played each other since the 1997 NCAA Tournament, when the Owls knocked off the Dragons, 61-39, in the opening round.

The two teams met again Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament.

The matchup had a lackluster feel, hardly what you expect from two teams hoping to be the 65th best team in the country.

Call it déjà vu, call it whatever you’d like. Temple beat Drexel 68-59 at the Liacouras Center in another typical Big 5 matchup: two teams hungry for the spotlight in a city that saw only two teams (Saint Joseph’s and Pennsylvania) advance to the Big Dance.

But in more ways than one, this wasn’t like any other Big 5 game.

After a rocky start in front of a divided crowd of cherry and white on one side and yellow and blue on the other, Temple took control at the start of the second half and never really looked back.

After Temple coach John Chaney patiently sat behind a podium waiting for reporters in the post-game press conference with a blank, disgruntled look on his face, he took to the lockeroom to express his dissatisfaction with his young team.

Behind closed doors you could only hear shouting and expletives, as if the Owls had just lost a game.

It’s just one way for Chaney to keep teaching his team – win or lose – and keep the carrot in front of the horse.

It was a typical Chaney reaction.

“He’s always got something to say,” senior forward Alex Wesby said.

“I think what he was saying was that we played stupid tonight, didn’t play with our heads and found ourselves behind and tried doing things ourselves instead of playing as a team.”

Sophomore forward Hawley Smith made his first career start in place of junior swingman Brian Polk, who finished with 11 points, because Chaney said Smith “earned it.”

The Dragons pulled out to a quick 9-0 run in the first half and held the lead until the end of the half.

But Temple went on a 17-0 run which extended from the final minutes of the first half until nearly five minutes into the second half.

After shooting 13-for-29 from the floor in the first half, the Dragons went cold, shooting a dismal 33 percent (9-for-27) in the second half.

Of their 19 wins, the Dragons have only lost three games after leading at the half.

The most recent second-half loss came against UNC-Wilmington on Jan. 11.

Coincidentally, Drexel blew a chance to gain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, again losing to UNC-Wilmington, 72-60, in the Colonial Athletic Conference Championship game on March 10.

The Owls had a similar story, but a more unique one.

Though Temple is used to making these late season charges, it usually finished the season with a nearly flawless ending after a horrific start.

But in this case, as was the case last year, the Owls found themselves playing for improvement, pride and a chance to see what next year’s squad might look like after losing to Dayton last Saturday.

The main task at hand: contain senior forward Robert Battle.

Mission: accomplished.

Battle finished with only nine points, but had 13 rebounds (11 defensive) while being suffocated in Chaney’s matchup zone defense.

Chaney’s message to the team: don’t leave Battle alone.

Stay with him.

Stay in front of him.

Stay glued to him.

But the Owls had a tougher time containing forwards Tim Whitworth and Eric Schmeider, who finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

“They just come at you and our guys are standing around taking pictures,” Chaney said of the Owls lax defensive effort.

Drexel pushed the ball up court after every Temple basket or turnover, always trying to catch the Owls off guard before being able to set up their zone defense.

On the offensive end, Wesby scored 12 of his game high 20 points in the second half and freshman guard Maurice Collins scored all 11 of his points in the second half.

Junior guard David Hawkins finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

“We still came out here a little flat, not playing as well as we should,” Wesby said.

“I think we started off by taking this team lightly and then when they showed how good of a team they are and how they can play together, then we started to play.”

Chris Silva can be reached at CBSrican@aol.com

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