As Temple coach Fran Dunphy said, the stars were aligned Saturday night at Saint Joseph's Hagan Arena, and not in a good way, it turned out, for his 22nd-ranked Owls.
Temple had an 11-game winning streak prior to Saturday and had won 10 in a row over the Hawks. The Owls were playing St. Joe's at 54th and City Line for the first time since 2001, and their coach said they played out of character.
This time, they weren't good enough to overcome that.
Guards Langston Galloway and Carl Jones, who struggled in St. Joe's loss at Temple earlier this season, combined for 40 points and forward Ronald Roberts was a difference maker off the bench with 18 points and seven rebounds as the Hawks put together an 82-72 upset win over the Owls before a raucous sellout crowd of 4,200, a few of whom even stormed the court after the final buzzer sounded.
The win for St. Joe's means the Hawks and the Owls will share this year's Big 5 championship with identical 3-1 records in city-series play. Temple's 78-60 win over St. Joe's at the Liacouras Center back on Jan. 28 did not count in the Big 5 standings.
The streaks are over and Temple must now dust itself off and dissect some of those out-of-character things that stung them Saturday night and nearly derailed them in a one-point overtime win at La Salle Wednesday. The Owls dropped to 22-6 overall and 11-3 in the Atlantic 10 standings but still own a one-game lead in the conference standings over Saint Louis, which got knocked off at Rhode Island Saturday. If it beats Massachusetts Wednesday at the Liacouras Center or wins at Fordham next Saturday, Temple will win the A-10 regular season title and grab the top seed in the conference tournament in Atlantic City.
Until then, the Owls have some stuff to work on. Dunphy was very complimentary of his good friend Phil Martelli's St. Joe's team, but he saw plenty of things that made him cringe.
"The stars were sort of aligned but we needed to be tougher and we needed to stay in character and we did not," Dunphy said. "We did for a stretch, got ourselves a three-point lead, gave up an offensive rebound, and because St. Joe's is pretty good they took advantage of our missteps."
With the game tied at 16-16, St. Joe's went on a 16-2 run to jump out to a 14-point lead at 32-18. Roberts was at the heart of it, scoring almost at will in the paint to provide 12 of those 16 points. But with the game in danger of getting out of hand for Temple, the Owls closed out the half on a 14-5 run to get within 37-32 at halftime. Reserve guard TJ DiLeo put a stop to the bleeding with a pull-up jumper and Khalif Wyatt scored the next five to keep the run going. A Moore three-pointer cut it to four at 36-32 before Carl Jones (18 points) hit 1 of 2 from the line just before halftime.
After Galloway, who finished with a game-high 22, opened up the second half with a trey to push the Hawks' lead to 40-32, Temple responded with a 15-4 run to take a 47-44 lead. Moore got it started, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson contributed four points along the way and center Micheal Eric did, too, with his rim-rattling dunk capping the run with 14:37 left to play. Later, after St. Joe's had regained the lead, Hollis-Jefferson tied the game at 51-51 with 12:18 to go.
A three from Jones proved to be the shot that put the Hawks ahead for good. Their lead grew as large as six before the Owls cut it back to one with 8:11 remaining with a jumper from Moore, but a dunk from Roberts and another three-ball from Jones bumped St. Joe's lead back out to six again. Temple never got closer than that and trailed by as many as 13 on two occasions before the game came to an end.
"I knew at some point we would make our run," said Moore, who shot 6 of 15 and just 1 of 5 from three-point range en route to scoring 15 points while also committing five of the Owls' eight turnovers. "We just tried to maintain those guys but I think they hit a lot of timely shots and got back into the lead, and I think it was a little too much for us to come back from."
Eric, still working his way back from a stress fracture in his right knee, played quite well again, collecting 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting and a game-high 14 rebounds in 36 minutes. Hollis-Jefferson contributed 15 points, four rebounds and four steals, so the frontcourt did its job.
St. Joe's, however, defended well enough to hold Temple's guards in check. Wyatt had 11 points, six below his average of 17.3 per game, and took just eight shots, and Juan Fernandez was held to just three points on 1 of 7 shooting. Fernandez, who along with Wyatt and any other starter not named Ramone Moore, played most of the second half in foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 8:36 to play and Wyatt got his fourth at the 6:48 mark.
So how does Temple get back in character as February turns to March?
"You've got to take shots and make plays that are high-percentage plays," Dunphy said. "We took a couple shots tonight that were 10 percenters, that are going to be good 10 percent of the time. That gets you in deep trouble trying to force a shot, trying to challenge (C.J.) Aiken a couple of times. We shot a jump hook in the first half from 13 feet? That's got maybe a five to seven percent chance of going in and leads to an easy break down at the other end.
"So it's stay in character, think about the team, don't ever think about yourself because it's not about you, it's about the program overall and hopefully we'll be OK."
Martelli thinks Temple will be just fine.
"That's a national-level team," Martelli said. "I'll call it the way it is. The people that vote I don't think handle it real well. That's a team that played on the road against a rival in Philadelphia, a league road game, and they'll dare to drop them out (of the polls). They're one of the 15 best teams in the country and I'm going to be anxious to follow them.
"If we get another chance against them in Atlantic City (in the A-10 Tournament), it'll be worth it because no one does it better, no one runs a program better, no one runs a team better than Dunph. It was an honor to compete against them, and that was my conversation with their seniors in case I don't see them again."
OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo can be reached at email@example.com.