Upset city: Owls top No. 8 Tennessee, 88-72

There are upsets.

There are blowouts.

And then there are both.

The men’s basketball team downed No. 8 Tennessee 88-72 Saturday afternoon at the Liacouras Center behind a season-high 35 points from senior guard Dionte Christmas and a career day from senior center Sergio Olmos.

The Valencia, Spain native controlled the middle of the floor and both offense and defense and netted 19 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a career-high 39 minutes of action.

In addition, Christmas hit seven 3-pointers, including three in-a-row on consecutive possessions in the second half that gave the Owls loads of breathing room.

All in all, it was a terrific day for Temple (5-3).

“We played about as good as we can play,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “Everything just came together in that one second half stretch where Dionte was just unconscious. But he can do that, he can get on fire a little bit.”

And that’s an understatement.

Christmas, mostly due to picking up two quick fouls, scored just five points in the first half. So when the final 20 minutes began, he was looking to make up for some lost time.

“When you’re hot, you’re hot,” Christmas said. “In the second half, the basket looked like the ocean to me—wide open. Every shot I took, I thought it was going in.”

It seemed that way, as Christmas hit on 50 percent of his 3-pointers while shooting 12-for-22 from the field.

With numbers like it, one would figure that the Volunteers would attempt to get a hand in his face or double-team him.

But the Owls’ No. 22 had several wide open looks at the basket in the midst of that torrid second half run, and that lack of attention surprised the team captain.

“I actually was [surprised],” Christmas said. “When I came off of screens, those guys had their hands down, kind of backed up off me a little bit. When I see a guy like that, it kind of gives me the [sign] to let it go.”

Meanwhile, Olmos played perhaps his best game in Cherry and White, as the senior center had to patrol the middle by himself due to sophomore forward Lavoy Allen being in constant foul trouble all game, as Allen played just 18 minutes and picked up four personal fouls.

That left Olmos playing with four guards or alongside an inexperienced freshman forward Micheal Eric.

Still, it wasn’t a problem. Even against a very athletic Tennessee (6-2) squad.

“We all got hyped for this game, it’s a huge game,” Olmos said. “It just felt great. That dunk and those five dunks is just me being aggressive.”

Olmos, whose English has improved greatly since arriving on North Broad Street, couldn’t really explain what made him play so well.

“I don’t know, it just felt good,” he said.

It also had to feel good for the Owls, as they notched the program’s biggest home win since perhaps the victory over Michigan State 11 years ago.

While players often use clichés and downplay a game’s significance, the Owls were well-aware that this one simply meant more.

“It definitely feels special today, especially after the loss we had against Miami of Ohio in front of our fans,” Christmas said. “[We] gave them what we should have given them against Miami of Ohio, as far as us playing as good we’re supposed to.”

The Owls showed that right from the start, jumping out to an 8-0 lead and causing Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl to burn a timeout before the first media stoppage.

While the Volunteers did hang around in the first half, the Owls went into the break with the momentum of junior guard Luis Guzman’s fast break, buzzer-beating layup.

The Owls’ nine-point halftime lead then sailed to as large as 20 in the second half, as a 10-0 run toward the end of the game essentially put things away.

“There was something special going,” Dunphy said. “The crowd was great, again. The students were great. It just felt like we were prepared.”

At the same time, the normally honest and personable Pearl admitted that the Owls simply wanted the win more than his team did.

“Temple played harder than we did,” Pearl said.

Temple returns to action Dec. 20 at Kansas. The game will be on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. They don’t return home until Jan. 5 against Kent State.

Game Notes

It was announced during the game that the father of freshman guard T.J. DiLeo, Tony DiLeo, was named interim coach of the Philadelphia 76ers after they fired Maurice Cheeks…The attendance was announced at 8,068…Local hero Timmy Kelly sang the national anthem and received high praise from both coaches…The student section was filled to the top, as this time around, they were able to get into the game and, of course, storm the floor after the final buzzer.

Todd Orodenker can be reached at

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