Temple may be new top dog in city

Posted: December 11, 2011

You could argue this on technicalities, but the reality is that Villanova had been on top of Philadelphia's college basketball heap for the last eight seasons, since Jameer Nelson and Delonte West and the rest from Hawk Hill took over the city in 2003-04.

Even two seasons back, when Temple won more games and beat 'Nova and won the Big Five title, the Owls didn't necessarily dethrone the Wildcats, who were a No. 2 seed in that season's NCAA tournament.

The Owls' 78-67 victory Saturday at the Liacouras Center won't be the sole top-dog indicator. Other teams will have a say. St. Joseph's, which had a huge win of its own Saturday, will have a shot at 'Nova next weekend. And La Salle just missed at the Pavilion, losing in overtime. The Atlantic Ten locals will battle each other later on.

On this day, though, the top local isn't Villanova. That's worth noting. It would be easy to give Saturday's game second billing to the backdrop, to Temple's ire at Villanova's not wanting to share Big East basketball courts with the Owls. One rollout in the fired-up student section read, "NOVA SAYS JUMP! BIG EAST ASKS HOW HIGH?"

But it wasn't the building or the atmosphere that got to Villanova. It was the Owls themselves, playing with both their big frontcourt starters out injured. In the best tradition of hoops point-counterpoint, Temple turned the height disadvantage into a speed advantage. Owls guard Ramone Moore, who had 32 points, was the best player on the court, his quick first step and willingness to initiate contact too much for Villanova. And when there was a big little play to make, Temple's Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson usually was there to make it.

For stretches of the game, Hollis-Jefferson was Temple's tallest player on the court, along with four true guards.

"You're what, 6-7?" Moore said afterward.

"6-6," said the junior from Chester.

"He goes out and plays with his heart," Moore said.

Jay Wright raved about Moore's play and said, "They are long and quick to the ball. Rebounding isn't just being big. They are really quick to the ball. You've got a big guy like [Villanova center Mouphtaou Yarou], you're playing against a thick center in Syracuse, that's a good thing. When you're playing against quicker guys that go after the ball - it's one thing to be quick, but to go after the ball."

Wright went on, "There's so many little things they do that make them a good team. They're not spectacular, but they're winning plays. Like that possession at the end. I think we had it to seven and they tipped a couple of rebounds free and then they tipped it back - just smart basketball."

Hollis-Jefferson made both of those tips. Fran Dunphy talked about halftime adjustments on Villanova guard Maalik Wayns, who had just two second-half field goals. One big adjustment was having Hollis-Jefferson hedge on screens, cutting Wayns' access to the lane.

"He had two great tip-ins at a critical time," Dunphy added about Hollis-Jefferson, who had 11 points and 14 rebounds, seven at each end.

Villanova remains a work in need of progress, at both ends of the court. That doesn't come as a big surprise to anybody on the Main Line, with new roles or increased responsibilities for every player on the roster.

"Just to get Mouph the ball, we had to get him out on the perimeter because they did such a good job of moving him off the block and being physical with him,'' Wright said. "We couldn't get it to him. And even when we tried, they were so quick, we threw it away."

This was 'Nova's fourth loss in five games. The team that really needed a win couldn't get one. It wasn't an upset, though. Temple was the five-point favorite and won its 24th straight at home.

But it still felt like a big deal, knocking off the top dog, assuming the role.


Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

 

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