PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—This one seemed to hold a scrimmage quality for the Temple Owls. Any other time a Temple-St. Joseph’s Atlantic 10 Conference matchup holds a special connotation when it comes to college basketball in this town.
Not so this year.
This year, Temple and St. Joe’s are two programs heading in decidedly different directions. The Owls, who entered Sunday’s A-10 game as the nation’s No. 23-ranked team, are locks for their fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, while 2010-11 continues to grate at St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, whose Hawks have struggled this season with youth, starting three freshmen (Daryus Quarles, Ronald Roberts, Langston Galloway) and a sophomore (Carl Jones).
After about seven minutes of competitive basketball, Temple forged ahead with a strong push in the first half and never looked back en route to a 66-52 victory, before 10,206 at the Liacouras Center.
The victory gives the Owls a 21-5 overall record and 11-2 mark in the A-10. St. Joe’s woes in this growing-pain season fell to 7-19 and 2-10. The win also marked the eighth-straight victory and ninth-straight over St. Joe’s for the Owls, the three-time defending A-10 champions who are now 6-0 in February and seem to be peaking at the right time.
“I like where we are right now, we’re playing well,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re playing with a nice flow, a nice rhythm to our game, and though we’re playing well, we still have a long way to go. We have some adjusting, and we still have some tests ahead. It doesn’t get any easier at Duke, at George Washington and at UMass over the next three games, before we close against La Salle (on March 5 at the Liacouras Center).
“We won’t be playing in the friendly confines of the Liacouras Center any time soon, and I have a feeling we’ll find some more things out about ourselves. But right now, we know who we are at this point and it’s a good place to be. We appreciate where we are and have an appreciation for who we are. That’s important.”
St. Joe’s, however, has some figuring out to do. Martelli vehemently defended his players, stressing that his young team is not giving up by any means, and that it’s a process.
“These freshmen have played a lot of minutes and we have to play better basketball, we have to get everyone to really believe in what we’re doing and play to perfection, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Martelli said. “They beat us nine-straight times, but I believe it’s 11-straight times we beat them, so it’s a cyclical nature to it, we club you, you club us.
“But this team didn’t lose seven in a row. This team lost twice [to Temple]. It’s all part of the learning process. It’s the kind of game that hurts 150-percent, more than 100-percent, because this means a game-and-a-half to us and it always will be.”
The last single-digit winning season for the Hawks came during the 1989-90 season when they went 7-21. The Hawks have four tries to win three games, traveling to Massachusetts (Feb. 23) and Charlotte (March 5), and hosting St. Bonaventure (Feb. 26) and Richmond (March 2).
And though St. Joe’s can use the built-in youth excuse, Temple wasn’t exactly overflowing on the experience end, either.
The Owls were without 6-11 junior center Michael Eric, lost for the season with a broken right patella tendon suffered last Tuesday during practice, and 6-6 junior forward Scottie Randall is out indefinitely with a right foot injury suffered last Thursday against Richmond. In their place stepped forward sophomore Rahlir Jefferson and 6-5 freshman Aaron Brown, who started with senior Lavoy Allen, and two juniors, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore.
Temple showed great balance. Allen’s 14-point, 12-rebound performance came with a special merit, becoming Temple’s all-time leading rebounder (1,045) overtaking John Baum (1,042). Moore scored a team-high 17, Jefferson finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, and Fernandez added 12.
The Owls took a 35-23 lead into halftime, closing the half on a 26-12 tear. St. Joe’s last lead was 11-9, after four lead changes before Temple responded with 11-straight points to take an early control of the game.
Moore nailed a three for the Owls, Fernandez canned three-straight free throws, Jefferson chipped in with a bucket and Khalif Wyatt concluded the run with a bookend trey.
Suddenly, what had looked competitive began taking on the appearance of a blowout. The Hawks scratched back to close within 20-18 and 22-20, but that seemed to be downtime for the Owls to recharge. Temple then cranked it up again to quell any threat, ending the half on a 13-3 roll.
Players like Jefferson, a standout at local Chester High, will be asked to do more with Randall and Eric out, and he appears the kind of player that can be a difference-maker in subtle ways—rebounding, scoring when needed, and providing stellar defense.
“I just have more to do now that I’m starting, like scoring more,” Jefferson said. “I’ll be asked to score more, rebound more, but I feel really comfortable with these guys. We’re an unselfish team and that’s just how we are. The number-one priority is defense, and that’s my role. We know what’s ahead, with three-straight away games, starting with Duke, so we know we won’t get any breaks. But I think we’re coming along at the right time.”
Reported by: Joseph Santoliquito