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February 22, 2012

Owls escape La Salle with 80-79 OT win

Playing its first game since climbing into both national polls at No. 22, Temple missed just five shots in the second half Wednesday night at La Salle.

And yet, as the clock slipped past the 10-second mark in overtime (yes, overtime), there was Explorers guard Earl Pettis with the ball in his hands and his team down one with a chance to win the game for La Salle as the volume in the building hit a level that would suggest there were twice as many people as the 3,400 who crammed into the sold-out Tom Gola Arena.

With Khalif Wyatt guarding him, Pettis missed a three-pointer from the right wing, but La Salle guard D.J. Peterson grabbed the rebound and got the ball out to guard Sam Mills, who eyed up another potential game-winner, but that shot missed, too.

Final score: Temple 80, La Salle 79. With the win, the Owls can't do any worse than a share of the Big 5 title, even if they lose at Saint Joseph's Saturday.

Sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, and the Owls, now 22-5 overall and 11-2 and in first place in the Atlantic 10, were a little bit of both in putting together their 11th consecutive win, something this program hasn't done since the 1999-2000 season, when it won 13 in a row.

The numbers wouldn't necessarily suggest the game was that close, but it most certainly was, as there were seven lead changes and six ties. La Salle (18-10, 7-6 A-10) almost won despite the fact that Temple shot 72.2 percent (13 of 18) in the second half and outrebounded the Explorers by 40-33 while the home team shot just 38.6 percent (27-for-70).

But after shooting just 3 of 9 for eight first-half points, Pettis was sensational in the next 25 minutes. He erupted for 20 points in the second half, including La Salle's last 13 in regulation, and five in the extra period to rack up a game- and career-high 33. Wyatt, who tallied a team-high 25 for Temple, shot 4-for-5 from three-point range and went on a personal 10-0 run after La Salle took a 50-49 lead on a pair of Jerrell Wright free throws with 11:14 left in the second half.

"Khalif got matched on (Pettis), and Khalif certainly wanted the credit for contesting his shot," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said of the last possession. "It would have been poetic justice to be honest with you the way Earl played if that ball had gone in. We just got lucky at the end there.

"Obviously there was that stretch where we go up 10 late in the game and we should be able to manage the game better than we did. We had a couple of interesting plays, calls, what have you, and we didn't keep our poise like we needed to."

That about summarizes how the game got to overtime.

Temple led by 70-60 after a Rahlir-Hollis Jefferson dunk with 4:05 left in the second half, but La Salle closed things out with an 11-1 run to force the extra period. And just as Wyatt scored 10 in a row earlier in the second half, Pettis scored 11 straight for the Explorers on four free throws, a layup, two more foul shots and then a three-pointer that tied it at 71-71 with 1:23 left in the second half.

During that stretch, Temple guard Ramone Moore was called for a technical foul after he was first whistled for an offensive foul as he tried to get some space from Mills while crossing halfcourt. It didn't appear Moore said much - if anything - at all, but he was whistled for the technical soon after. A few reporters along press row even asked an official what Moore said to prompt it, but didn't get a response. Oh, well. The only conceivable thing Moore could have done was carry the ball with him for a moment before dropping it to the floor.

Anyway, Pettis hit both technical foul shots and then drained the three after La Salle retained possession, and that was the sequence that led to overtime.

Temple had 5.6 seconds left to work with in regulation coming out of a timeout. The ball was inbounded to Wyatt, but he operated as if he had 15 seconds to work with, dribbled to the right wing and never even looked at the rim as time expired and sent the game to overtime. Wyatt later admitted in the postgame press conference he thought he had seven seconds instead of five.

Pettis opened overtime with a three-ball that gave La Salle a short-lived 74-71 lead, but Moore redeemed himself with a three that tied the game and then pushed the Owls ahead with a jumper before Wyatt hit two foul shots to give Temple a 78-74 advantage with 2:36 left. The Owls then went up six at 80-74 with 2:01 to go after two free throws by guard Juan Fernandez, which represented his only two points of the game.

La Salle guard Tyreek Duren canned a trey nine seconds later to cut it to three, and Pettis cut it to one with a layup with 55 seconds remaining. Fernandez missed at the other end for Temple to set up the late-game theatrics.

"We knew Pettis was going to shoot it," Wyatt said of the game's last possession. "He was having a great second half; he had a great game. It was us against them, and it ended up being me against Pettis at the end. He got a pretty good shot off, I played pretty good defense and got a good contest, and thank God he missed it, and then they got another opportunity in the corner and Mills had a good shot, too. And thank God he missed."

In a helter-skelter first half, Temple and La Salle combined for 15 turnovers and 47 missed shots. The Owls used a 10-0 first-half run, capped by an Aaron Brown three-pointer, to take a 28-18 lead, but the Explorers closed out the half on an 11-4 run of their own to draw within three at 32-29 at the intermission.

Had it not been for center Micheal Eric's 12 points on 6 of 11 shooting and seven rebounds in the first half, the Owls would have been in some trouble. Their three starting guards - Moore, Fernandez and Wyatt - shot a combined 3-for-15, with Fernandez going scoreless. Perhaps the game's unsung hero, given all the action from the guards down the stretch, Eric put up 18 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high six blocks in 35 minutes, his finest effort since returning from a fractured right kneecap that cost him 13 games earlier in the season.

Listen to the postgame comments from Dunphy, Wyatt, Eric, Pettis and La Salle coach John Giannini here.

Khalif Wyatt, Micheal Eric

Fran Dunphy

Earl Pettis, John Giannini

And hear what Fran Dunphy had to say about former La Salle star Alonzo Lewis, who was tragically killed in a car crash Tuesday night. Dunphy had just hours earlier seen Lewis at the Big 5 Hall of Fame induction ceremony at The Palestra and shared a story about their conversation.

Fran Dunphy on Alonzo Lewis

OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo at jgdicarlo@gmail.com.

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