Olmos goes to work, winning Owls a rest

St. Joseph';s Idris Hilliard tries to launch his shot as Temple's Semaj Inge registers his objection.
St. Joseph';s Idris Hilliard tries to launch his shot as Temple's Semaj Inge registers his objection.
Posted: March 06, 2009

On Temple's senior night, Sergio Olmos was the lone honoree not to be escorted by a relative to center court.

Thousands of miles from home, the Spaniard has not had the luxury of a parent nearby for a comforting word. This season, there have been ups and downs. The 7-foot center lost his starting spot only to recently regain it.

Last night, though, Olmos had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring 14 points and negating Ahmad Nivins as Temple won a first-round bye in the Atlantic Ten tournament with a 68-59 win over rival St. Joseph's at the Liacouras Center.

Olmos held Nivins to 17 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the field. The Hawks forward came in shooting better than 64 percent from the field, but Olmos played him straight-up for most of the game and illustrated why he was better suited to start.

"When I lost my starting spot, I got a little down on myself," Olmos said. "I just took it the wrong way. I decided I had to keep working hard."

The two other seniors - Dionte Christmas and Semaj Inge - were just as instrumental. Christmas, who appears to be breaking out of a funk, was sensational, tallying a game high of 23 points. Inge contributed all nine of his points in the first half.

When St. Joe's rallied from an 11-point deficit in the second half, cutting the Owls' lead to two points, Christmas declared to his team that he would not let it lose.

"It was a must win," he said. "We definitely needed to win this game. It was senior night, my last game here, and I didn't want to go out the wrong way."

The Owls had lost two straight - and essentially any shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament - and needed to secure one of four byes in next week's conference tournament.

"It's almost as important as winning the game," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.

The Owls (18-11, 10-5 conference) could still finish third if Dayton loses its final game. They also improved to 2-2 in the Big Five.

St. Joe's fell to 15-14, 8-7, and 1-3 in the City Series. The Hawks - in a four-way tie for sixth place - will play a first-round game Wednesday in Atlantic City.

For much of the season, Nivins has carried St. Joe's offense. He had his 20th double-double by adding 16 rebounds, but Tasheed Carr led the Hawks with 22 points. The problem was that Darrin Govens scored most of his 14 points late, and aside from Idris Hilliard's six points, no one else got on the board.

The Owls have beaten the Hawks in four straight games. They won, 61-59, earlier this season, and that one turned into a nail-biter when they faltered at the line down the stretch. This time they were much better, converting 11 of their final 13 free throws.

"That was a little more pleasing to the soul," Dunphy said.

So was seeing Olmos, who came to America four years ago barely fluent in English, exit the Liacouras Center in style. In two months, he will depart the university with a degree. His parents aren't planning on missing another ceremony.

"They really don't know what senior night is," Olmos said. "They do know how important graduation is."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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