This was supposed to be the marquee game on the Atlantic 10 schedule this season - Temple playing Xavier on national television on a Saturday night in a lively Liacouras Center, Ramone Moore and Tu Holloway squaring off and all that good stuff.
But if you were looking for high drama, lead changes and momentum swings, the Owls took all that out of the script in a hurry.
Fueled by Moore's 30 points, Micheal Eric's career-high 16 rebounds and a first-half stretch that saw it reel off 16 straight points to take command of the game early, Temple coasted to an 85-72 win Saturday night before a "White Out" crowd of 9,370 at the Liacouras Center over the Musketeers, the team picked in a preseason vote to win the Atlantic 10 conference.
Instead, Temple, which has now won eight in a row, improved to 19-5 overall and sits atop the A-10 standings with an 8-2 conference record. Xavier, which got a quiet 23 points from Holloway, the reigning conference player of the year, dropped to 16-9 and 7-4 in the A-10.
The Owls outrebounded Xavier by 43-29 and grabbed 18 boards on the offensive glass. Holloway had twice as many turnovers (four) as assists (two), and the normally-dangerous Mark Lyons, who has come off the bench recently in order to try to shake a recent slump, shot just 4 of 15 and 1 of 6 from three-point range in scoring 15 points.
Five different players - Moore, Khalif Wyatt, Eric, TJ DiLeo and Juan Fernandez - scored in a 16-0 run that rocketed Temple to a 21-5 lead. The Owls led by as many as 23 in the second half before Xavier cut it to nine on a pair of Holloway free throws, but they came with just 1:06 left to play.
Before it cooled off and hit just nine field goals in the second half, Temple shot a sizzling 61.3 percent (19 of 31) in the first half against a Musketeers team that came into Saturday leading the A-10 in field goal percentage defense at 39.1 percent. The Owls slammed the door on the Musketeers early and never let them back in.
In short, they looked nothing like the team that fell behind by 15 to a sub-.500 George Washington squad before squeaking out a win Wednesday night. Instead, they clearly looked like the A-10's best team and a top-25 team. Perhaps they will be when the new polls come out Monday.
"It was just one of those games where we knew they were going to try to come in and beat us," said Moore, who shot 9 of 16 overall, 5 of 8 from three-point range and 7 of 9 from the free throw line to get his 30 points, two shy of his career high. "Just everything about the game was hyped up. We just wanted to live up to it."
Eric, the team's 6-foot-11 fifth-year center who played in his seventh game since missing the previous 13 with a fractured right kneecap, missed some easy shots around the rim but still managed to record the fourth double-double of his career and his third this season with 11 points to go with his 16 boards. Six of his rebounds came off the offensive glass, and his 28 minutes played were the most since he returned from the injury.
"I feel great. I'm getting better as the weeks go by," said Eric, who in November reinjured the same kneecap he hurt last season. "I'm just happy to be in a situation where I get a chance to play basketball again. I feel good."
Xavier came into the game ranked third in the league in rebounding margin but instead watched Temple grab 13 more, a point that was not lost on Xavier coach Chris Mack, who spoke as if he ingested a bottle of truth serum before he took questions from the media.
"I've always been led to believe that size doesn't necessarily matter," Mack said. "It's the size of the heart. I look at (Xavier center) Kenny Frease. He's seven feet, 270 pounds, he's probably the biggest guy on the floor. He goes two points, one rebound in just under 20 minutes (18) of play. Micheal Eric, who's spent more time in the training room this year probably than on the practice court, goes for 11 and 16. You can't win when the discrepancy between centers is like that."
Wyatt, who scored 18 points on 5 of 12 shooting and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line to go with four assists and three steals, was the only other player along with Moore and Eric to reach double-figure scoring. Forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson had seven points, Fernandez added six, and DiLeo chipped in seven and four rebounds off the bench.
Temple's win meant this rivalry has more or less held true to form. Over the last seven seasons, the team that has played at home has won. The Owls were the last team to win a road game in this series when they beat the Musketeers at the Cintas Center in 2005.
At the end of the day, Dunphy and his players didn't get too high from the win. Both Dunphy and Moore were asked if they felt Moore was the best player in the conference and politely deflected the question. Nobody used terms like statement game or made bold claims.
"What it came down to was our guys were ready to play," Dunphy said. "I think their defense is terrific. I think they're going to be a very tough foe for everybody toward the end of the season."
OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.