The calendar read Nov. 14, but Big 5 magic generally scoffs at stuff like that. Games like the one Temple and Penn played Monday night at The Palestra don't always have to happen in March or even January, for that matter.
Taking the floor without an injured starter and its top scorer off the bench, the Owls got all they could handle from the Quakers and more in their season opener. Once again, they needed big-time shots from senior guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, but the supporting cast mattered just as much. A somewhat questionable call in the game's final seconds helped, too.
When the final buzzer sounded, Temple found itself clinging to a 73-67 overtime win, one rife with peaks and valleys, unsung heroes and a few interesting whistles that benefited both teams.
The highlight heroes were Moore and Fernandez, who scored eight straight points between them to turn a three-point overtime deficit with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left into a five-point lead with 17 seconds remaining. Fernandez scored a team-high 19 points on 7 of 14 shooting, while Moore added 15, despite missing 14 shots from the floor. His three-pointer from the corner off a feed from Fernandez put Temple ahead for good at 66-64 with 1:18 left in the extra period.
The unsung hero was junior guard TJ DiLeo.
Playing without senior swingman and starter Scootie Randall, who could be out until early December as he continues to recover from surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage, and without reigning Atlantic 10 Sixth Man of the Year Khalif Wyatt, who was serving a one-game suspension because he played in an unsanctioned summer league game in the offseason, Temple got career highs of 10 points and 38 minutes from DiLeo, who first came off the bench to spell Fernandez when he picked up his second foul a little less than five minutes into the game.
The 6-foot-3 DiLeo, who averaged 13.0 minutes, 2.3 points and 1.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore, also swiped five boards and drew a charge in the first half. His most important and impressive play came when, with the game tied at 57-57 with 42 seconds left, he blocked a shot along the perimeter by Penn guard Zack Rosen, who caught fire in the second half and scored a game-high 27 points on seven three-pointers.
And it was an athletic block, too. Rosen had his balance and pulled up to shoot, and DiLeo simply rose up, out-jumped Rosen and extended his right hand to swat the ball away emphatically. Considering the way Rosen was shooting, there's a good chance the ball would have otherwise gone in.
Instead, the game stayed knotted at 57 and eventually went into overtime.
"In the end-of-the-game huddle, I said TJ was the player of the game," Moore said. "He guarded Zack Rosen pretty well, despite how many points he scored. Still, TJ guarded him pretty well and made him take tough shots. I've got to give Zack credit, he hit a lot of tough shots at the end of the game, but TJ did his best."
A number of players, including small forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who contributed 10 points, five rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes, rotated at certain points to guard Rosen, but DiLeo's block came at a critical juncture of the game.
"My role is on the defensive end first and then offensive end second," DiLeo said. "I feel like I kind of gauge most of my games on how well I play defense and help our team win overall."
That, he did, and he also drew an intentional foul call that led to a subsequent technical foul call on Penn coach Jerome Allen that helped Temple put the game away.
After Rosen hit his seventh and final three of the game, Penn was still within a bucket at 69-67 with 7.1 seconds to play. With Fernandez inbounding the ball along the baseline, Penn guard Miles Cartwright grabbed DiLeo's jersey as he tried to get open, and the whistle blew. Once the officiating crew of John Hughes, Dennis Allocco and Kenneth Clark decided it was an intentional foul, Allen got animated by the Penn bench and then got slapped with the technical.
DiLeo missed both free throws, but Fernandez hit the ensuing two foul shots that came from the technical. Cartwright then fouled DiLeo again on the inbounds pass and DiLeo made both free throws that time to officially ice the game with 4.5 seconds left.
Was it a bad call? Allen certainly thought so, and even Moore called it "skeptical." DiLeo almost sounded apologetic when recounting the sequence of events to reporters.
"I was honestly just cutting through," DiLeo said. "I really didn't pay attention. I think (Cartwright) wrapped me up for a minute and, I don't know … I guess from the ref's point of view, it might have looked like he fouled me intentionally. I guess he wrapped both arms around me. That's what I think happened, but I'm not really positively sure."
What Temple can be sure of is that it recovered from a sloppy start that saw it get beat on a few backdoor cuts. Penn (1-1) built its lead as large as nine points when it jumped out to a 14-5 advantage after Cartwright turned a steal off DiLeo into a layup, but Moore kickstarted a 19-4 run with a layup and a trey. Fernandez drained a three to put the Owls ahead by 19-18 with 6:05 left in the first half and sophomore guard Aaron Brown, who started and played 30 minutes, scored three of his eight points with 3:21 left in the half to make it a 24-18 ballgame before Penn used a 10-4 run of its own to tied things up at 28-28 at the break.
Temple took a 31-30 lead at the 18:31 mark of the second half on a layup from Moore and kept that lead for more than 17 minutes but could not build a cushion of larger than six points. A three from Rosen put Penn ahead by 57-56 with 1:20 left in regulation before Moore tied things up 10 seconds later by hitting 1 of 2 from the foul line.
Then DiLeo registered his block of Rosen to kick off the thrilling finish.
"He's a good athlete, TJ, and a great guy and he knows his role," Dunphy said. "If the next game he's not playing as many minutes, then he's not going to be crying about it and he knows exactly what his role is."
Monday night, it was a big one.
Temple won despite allowing Penn to shoot 46.6 percent overall and better than 57 percent in overtime. Fifth-year senior center Micheal Eric played 38 minutes and finished a point shy of a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds to go with a career high of four assists, and redshirt freshman forward Anthony Lee contributed two points, four rebounds and a block in 10 minutes in his first college game.
The Owls will next play Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the opening game of the 5-Hour Energy Puerto Rico Tip-Off against Western Michigan.
Listen to the postgame comments from Penn coach Jerome Allen and Quakers guard Zack Rosen, along with those from Dunphy, Fernandez, DiLeo and Moore.
Although two sources confirmed with OwlScoop.com that junior guard Khalif Wyatt was indeed suspended one game for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game, Temple coach Fran Dunphy did not offer specific details when asked about it after the game.
"It's an indiscretion, and it's as minor as you can possibly commit," Dunphy said. "And if look around, it probably happened to a number of programs this summer. It was one of those things that happened to him and he took his medicine and understood that he probably shouldn't have done that, and he'll be ready to play on Thursday."
The 6-4 Wyatt averaged 10.1 points per game as a sophomore and 14.5 points in Temple's last seven games last season. He scored 14 in a career-high 41 minutes in the Owls' third-round NCAA Tournament loss to San Diego State last March.
Dunphy said in the days leading up to the opener that Wyatt had earned the right to start until senior Scootie Randall returned from his injury. Guards Juan Fernandez and TJ DiLeo said they were surprised to find out about Wyatt's suspension and claimed they did not know of it until Wednesday morning.
"I found out through Twitter today, to be honest," Fernandez said. "I didn't even know."
Wyatt apparently Tweeted that he would not be playing but deleted the Tweet soon after.
"And at first, I thought it was a joke," Fernandez added. "Khalif does that every once in a while. I texted (DiLeo), actually, and he told me. But, you know, things happen and you just have to play through it.
Fernandez admitted that his pass to Ramone Moore that led to Moore's go-ahead three-pointer in overtime was really intended for center Micheal Eric.
"It was definitely to 'Mone," Fernandez said with a wry smile before coming clean. "Nah, it was to Mike. It was to Mike and we got lucky. Ramone hit a big shot and that was one of the big shots of the game."
Too close for comfort
More than 30 minutes after the game had ended, several players from both Temple and Penn reconvened on the court to exchange hugs and handshakes and recap some of the action.
Moore, who shot just 6 of 20 en route to getting 15 points, said he knows Penn's players well and they know him. Perhaps too well.
"I was actually up here a lot over the summer working out with these guys," Moore told OwlScoop.com. "I know a lot of those guys and the know my game."
"They guarded me pretty well," Moore added. "I probably shouldn't be up here that often working on my game."
The whistle strikes again
With 7.1 seconds left in regulation and the game tied at 57-57, Fernandez was whistled for a carrying call as he started to drive through the lane. It negated any chance Temple had to avoid overtime, and Penn's Tyler Bernardini missed a jumper from the right wing as the regulation buzzer sounded.
"The last play of regulation, you're hoping that he's going to have the ball in his hands and go make a play," Dunphy said of Fernandez. "I'm not a big proponent of the carry. I think it's what kids do today. They're way ahead of where I was when I was playing college basketball. You can do that. I'm not sure why it's in the game."
OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.