ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The final two minutes may have belonged to senior guard Dionte Christmas. But the other 38 were just a part of the Cherry and White show.
Temple edged past top seed and No. 19 Xavier, 55-53, at Boardwalk Hall Friday night with a little bit of everything. Every member of the starting five made key contributions when called upon. The crowd even decided to make a difference.
The season’s most timely victory means the Owls have reached the final game of the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament for the second straight year. A win secures an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Christmas was built for these moments. The All-American fought his recent shooting funk to nail back-to-back three pointers and give the Owls the final lead. He shot 6-13 from the field and played solid defense on the Musketeers’ star senior guard B.J. Raymond. More importantly, his coach’s confidence has the A-10’s second leading scorer back in form.
“When I stepped off the court [Dunphy] said ‘every shot you take from now on is going in the basket’ and I believed that and he believed that and that’s all I needed to hear,” Christmas said.
The senior guard has had his share of struggles this season. From turnover problems to losing minutes to freshman Juan Fernandez, 2008-2009 has been a long road. However, Friday night’s performance was the product of hard work. It wasn’t flashy but it was a necessity. Only five points and one assist, but five rebounds and one big block. An early-game seat on the bench gave Inge the push he needed to excel.
“First play I came in and turned the ball over coach really cussed me out,” Inge said. “That just really woke me up and let me know this was going to be a dog fight. It wasn’t going to come down to 10 points. At the end it was going to come to one or two points.”
Dunphy applauded his starting point guard’s effort as well.
“One other guy I would like to see [at the press conference] answering some questions was Semaj Inge,” Dunphy said. “It seemed like every time we needed a huge rebound he stepped up and got it. Especially late in the game and I absolutely was on him like you couldn’t believe.”
Bum ankle or not, the sophomore forward soared high above the rim Friday night. Surprisingly limber, he showed little indication of injury and canned 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting. It didn’t end with the smooth offensive touch, as Allen smuggled in 11 rebounds for his twelfth double-double of the season. Who needs two feet?
The senior center and Spaniard always comes with his share of good, bad and ugly. Against Xavier, Olmos shot only 2-8 for four points and severely missed a wide-open dunk. But, his defensive stature came in handy limiting the Musketeers to 16 points in the paint. Four monster blocks were also a sign of the senior’s maturity and discipline as he finished with just one foul.
Not to be left out was the presence of the junior guard. It seems like the higher the stakes, the better Brooks is. After a 19-point explosion against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday, he followed up with a stat-stuffing night. He compiled nine points (all in the first half), seven rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes. If there was a numerical measurement for overall defense, Brooks would lead in this category as well. He was exceptional against the Musketeers, locking them down during key stretches.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.