'Nova knocks off Temple Wildcats' guards clip the Owls in Big 5 thriller

Posted: December 09, 2001

Villanova coach Jay Wright might have looked mostly calm, cool and collected out there last night on the Palestra sideline, but his message to the Wildcats' backcourt got through loud and clear:

"Attack! Attack!" Wright said.

All night, the Wildcats were told to go, go, go against Temple. And all night, the Wildcats followed directions.

They avoided sloppy passes and hit open jumpers. And never mind that the statistics sheet said that Temple generated almost all the steals. It was Villanova that got to most of the loose balls.

So in typical City Series fashion, the team that needed a Big Five win the most got it. After two heart-wrenching overtime losses to La Salle and Penn, Villanova held on for a heart-stopping 70-66 upset in the final game of the Big Five Classic tripleheader last night.

"I was ready for overtime," Wright said with a smile, after his team shot 59 percent from the field and made 20 of 28 shots inside the three-point circle. "Really."

"This win right now does a lot for our confidence," said Villanova guard Gary Buchanan. "Every day in practice, we try to get every single loose ball. We try to dive on the floor every single play. That's what wins close games."

Villanova point guard Derrick Snowden, who was questionable after suffering a strained groin Wednesday night against Penn, hit the game-winning basket.

He pumped a floater over the outstretched arms of Temple center Kevin Lyde with 21 seconds left, and just four seconds left on the shot clock.

"I was the last option on that play," said Snowden, who also hit two free throws with six seconds left to seal the win. "I really didn't want to take that shot. But it went down."

"An honest answer," Jay Wright said.

Temple, which trailed almost the entire game, had one last chance to come back. Or rather, Lynn Greer had one last chance to come back.

When Greer dribbled across the top of the key, the Wildcats were ready with a double-team that was about to turn into a triple-team. As Greer dribbled around the circle, he was met by Villanova big men Brooks Sales and Andrew Sullivan, who circled right with him.

There was supposed to be pick-and-roll developing with Lyde, but the play never unfolded as the Owls hoped it would. Greer lost the ball out of bounds.

After the game, Greer was standing just a few feet from the spot where the ball went astray. He termed it "a questionable call." He thought the last man to touch it was wearing a Villanova uniform. He had thrown his hands up.

"That's what happens," Greer said of Temple's only second-half turnover.

To get the win, Villanova had to survive another late onslaught from Greer, the Owls' virtuoso point guard, who pumped in 29 points. On a fastbreak, Greer was crunched by Wildcats forward Ricky Wright and still managed to get the ball up to the backboard. When it fell in, Greer went to the line and completed a three-point play.

On Temple's next possession, Greer drove the lane and got hit just as he deposited the ball in the net. His foul shot brought the Owls within three, 62-59.

But twice after that, Ricky Wright was fouled inside and increased Villanova's lead to 66-59. At that point, Owls forward Alex Wesby checked back in the game and Villanova's bench yelled, "Shooter. Shooter."

Naturally, the next points were scored by Wesby, on a right corner three-pointer off an inbounds pass.

Owls guard Brian Polk then stole a floating 'Nova pass to the wing and went the other way for a slam to cut the lead to 66-64.

Villanova's bench was up yelling that Wright was manhandled at the other end, but there was no call. Greer drove by Reggie Bryant at the other end to tie the game with 50 seconds left.

It was Bryant who hit many big shots. Two straight Bryant threes, followed by a Ricky Wright dunk, gave Villanova a 50-36 lead with 11 1/2 minutes left. Then Bryant hit a 19-footer from the left corner to put Villanova up, 57-47, with just under seven minutes left. The sophomore guard finished with 17 points, equaling a career high.

Temple coach John Chaney had said he was most concerned about this last game of Temple's five-games-in-10-days run, and he was prophetic. If his team was tired, Chaney said, he would never say that.

It is a tough way for Temple to go into final exams. The Owls play two crucial nonleague games on Dec. 18 against Alabama and on Dec. 20 against Memphis.

They'll need a win in at least one of those, or this season will start to look a lot like last season, when the Owls had to win the Atlantic Ten tournament to get an NCAA tournament bid.

Lyde had been medically cleared to play, and had practiced on Friday. But it was literally a game-time decision for Chaney. There was a big cheer from Temple's student section when Lyde walked out a minute behind the rest of Temple's team for pregame warm-ups. Lyde didn't start, but played when Ron Rollerson found foul trouble.

Mike Jensen's e-mail address is mjensen@phillynews.com.

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