For the Owls, it was not supposed to end like this.
After winning nine out of their last ten coming in, the Owls looked like a surefire bet to repeat as Atlantic 10 champions.
Momentum was on their side, and their play was of a typical Temple team come this side of March.
The La Salle program had something to say about that on Thursday night.
La Salle defeated Temple 72-66 last night in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament, snapping the Owls’ five-game winning streak. The last time Temple lost was at La Salle on Feb.13.
Mike Cleaves is the smallest player on the Explorers roster. On Thursday, he came up big.
From the opening tip to the final buzzer Cleaves was all over the First Union Spectrum floor. Whether it was pressuring the Owls on defense, making a reverse lay-up look easy or draining three’s, Cleaves did it
all for La Salle. Last time the teams hooked up Cleaves managed only six points from two shots behind the arc.
“You can’t measure Mike’s heart,” La Salle Head Coach Billy Hahn said. “He has a huge heart. Mike doesn’t back down from anybody.”
He sure didn’t back down from Temple. Cleaves knocked down nine of his 17 shots, including three from beyond the arc. He finished the night with 28 points.
“Mike Cleaves killed us with penetration,” Temple Head Coach John Chaney said. “When we run against a team with a bunch of little guys, we have trouble. If we play against a team with two big guys, we’re all right.”
That didn’t happen for the Owls on Thursday evening. La Salle had one of their big men in at all times, but they never had both on the floor at the same time. For Temple Kevin Lyde and Ron Rollerson both got the
start. Rollerson played only eight minutes and did not score.
Rasual Butler was key for the Explorers as well. Last time these two teams met on February 1, he put La Salle on his back and carried them all the way to victory. On Thursday, Butler chipped in with 16 points on
The Owls woes began and ended with two factors.
One large factor was not getting the ball down low enough to Kevin Lyde in the post. Lyde could have easily added 10 points to the 19 points he accumulated on the evening. Both La Salle big men were in foul trouble and going to Lyde would have alleviated some of the pressure off the guards on the outside.
Another major factor in the loss was the play of senior Alex Wesby. Although Wesby will be back next year, he did not end the 2002 regular season on a good note.
Wesby was awful from the floor, shooting blanks. He had zero points on 0-for-8 shooting from the field. He was 0-for-5 from beyond the three-point line and did not get to the foul line all game.
That was a problem the Owls had on Thursday, getting to the free throw stripe. Temple shot six free throws to La Salle’s 20. That was one of the major differences.
Now Temple must sit and wait for their name to be called on Sunday. In all likelihood they will not receive an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a 15-14 record. However, stranger things have happened.
If the Owls do not hear their name on Sunday, they should receive an invitation to the NIT on Monday.
John Chaney reiterated during the post-game press conference that the Owls have nothing to be ashamed of. He also made note that the seniors have been through a lot and that there was no ill feelings toward anyone.
“After the ballgame I just mentioned to them to try to remember what they’ve done for us,” Chaney said. “They’ve won this tournament and been to the Final Eight. I wanted to thank them for that. It’s hard for me to get on them. There’s a time for compassion.”
That time is now.
But for the Owls and their fans it is also a time to think back what could have been.
News and Notes
Xavier overcame a tough game from U Mass to win in overtime by a final of 65-59. Romain Sato led Xavier with 21. 6-9 U Mass big man Eric Williams hit a last second three point heave to send the game to an extra session.
St Joes bowed out in the first round just like the Owls, with a loss to Dayton, 81-74. The Hawks played uninspired basketball and it showed on Thursday. Dayton sophomore Sean Finn had a huge night for the Flyers. He scored 12 points, while pulling down 12 points.
“We went down without our best fight,” St Joe’s Head Coach Phil Martelli said. “This was a loss that, to me, was a losing experience. We went out Sunday against Temple with our heads held high, not tonight.”
Thursday marked the first time that Temple has not made it to the Semifinals of the A-10 Tournament in its 20-years with the league.
Richmond defeated St. Bonaventure in the final game of the quarterfinals by a score of 78-69. Reggie Brown had a career-high 30 points for the Spiders.
With the Richmond win, it marks the first time ever that all four West teams have made the A-10 Semifinals.
La Salle’s victory on Thursday marked the first time they have beaten Temple twice in a season since 1977 in the East Coast Conference.
Xavier will meet Dayton on Friday at 7:05 p.m. Richmond vs. La Salle will follow at 9:30 p.m. The two winners will meet each other on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. with the winner receiving an automatic bid to the