By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Safe to say, it will be the biggest Big 5 game of the season on Thursday night as Temple hosts La Salle.
The Explorers have already earned a share of the City Series title and with a win in this game, they will grab the title outright for the first time since the 1989-90 season. Temple is 2-1 in Big 5 games, so with a win, they would share the crown with La Salle.
La Salle brings a four-game winning streak into this game. Last time out, they beat St. Joe’s, 76-64, at the Palestra.
“We played very well, especially offensively,” La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini tells KYW Newsradio. “We shared the ball and we made shots. We were fun to watch. We were aggressive and unselfish. Defensively, we played very hard, but we still gave up 62% (shooting) in the second half.”
Temple has played an incredible five straight one-point games, going 3-2 during that nerve-wracking stretch. The fifth game in that streak was an 83-82 win over UMass on Saturday.
“We’ve had some close games, I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy tells KYW Newsradio. “I mentioned it in another interview, the reality is we have a five-point turnaround in the first half that influenced the game much more than last plays of the games. We threw up a bad shot, they ran it down and got a three. That’s as influential as anything, it happened much earlier in the game. Each possession is critical, and we’ve had some, obviously, close games here the last five games. We’re going to have a lot more close games as we go down the end of the season. So hopefully we’ll prevail at some point.”
Most discussions about La Salle’s success this season start with their talented and deep backcourt, but Dunphy says they have more going for them than just that.
“They are just a really good basketball team, I think that’s the thing that sets them apart this year,” Dunphy says. “Do they have a good backcourt? Absolutely. But I think Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack are doing a really good job up front as well. They are just a good team. They play well together, they’re defending well, they’re making extra passes. It’s a terrific team to watch.”
Giannini has similar praise for the Owls.
“They always have good players, and they always play good basketball,” Giannini says. “We’ve played against (seniors) Khalif (Wyatt) and Scootie (Randall) for a long time, they are string guards, they can shoot, they can get their own shot, they’re scorers. They’ve been good defensively for a very long time, so they know what they’re doing, they know how to use their size and strength, they’re always in the right positions. It’s a proud program, they rarely beat themselves and they’re just really hard to play against.”
Wyatt continues to lead the Atlantic 10 in scoring for Temple, pouring in 19.8 points a game.
As for what winning the Big 5 outright would mean for La Salle?
“I think it is really important,” Giannini says. “And it’s probably mostly important because of the postseason implications. 13 out of the last 13 years, the Big 5 champion has made it to the NCAA Tournament, that’s where everyone wants to be. And winning at Temple is a huge resume win, they are an outstanding program, an outstanding team, and it would strengthen anyone’s case who is under consideration to win at Temple.”
Temple and La Salle will tip-off at the Liacouras Center at 7:00pm on Thursday night.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.