Off Campus: Temple's toughness was the difference vs. Duke

Posted: January 05, 2012

For the second time, Temple guard Juan Fernandez was hit in the face, and he didn't say a word. Fernandez just glared at Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and one of the officials, who were having a discussion. Hard to say whom Fernandez was glaring at more as he held a hand to his squinting eye.

Afterward, Krzyzewski used the word toughness three times during his opening statement. Twice to describe the way Temple had just played. Once to point out what his fifth-ranked Blue Devils lacked Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

No, he didn't see this coming, Krzyzewski said after Temple won, 78-73.

"If I saw it coming, I would have faked an illness, instead of getting ill during the game," Coach K said.

Who saw this coming? A close home win over Buffalo and a survival test at Delaware didn't offer any clues. The operative word for Temple fans this week seemed to be hope. As in they hoped the Owls stayed within range of Duke, that this would be a ball game to the last minute, which usually hadn't been the case when these two matched up in the past.

It had been almost 16 years since the last time the Owls beat Duke, in another test of toughness over at the Spectrum, nine meetings ago in 1996.

The toughness Duke's Hall of Fame coach referred to really wasn't physical toughness. Khalif Wyatt's two three-pointers, both contested, cracked the game open late. As the game moved along, it felt like less of an upset. Duke's guards played as young as they looked. Extending the Blue Devils' defense merely gave Temple's guards more room to operate, often resulting in a foul 30 feet from the hoop as Duke's guards struggled to stay in front of their Owls counterparts.

Big picture: This goes down as the biggest regular-season win of Fran Dunphy's career. Technically, Villanova was ranked higher two seasons ago when Temple beat the Wildcats. But nobody would claim that one equaled this one.

"They've won the Atlantic Ten three of the last four years," Krzyzewski said afterward. "It's not a team we're playing tonight, it's a program. Temple's always had a tradition here, with John [Chaney] and now with Dunph."

Krzyzewski and Dunphy, who played on an Army basketball team together four decades ago, are always mentality coaches as much as X-and-O coaches. Both believe that the tougher team usually wins. Dunphy had talked the day before after practice that he had told Owls guard Aaron Brown - "after he didn't do a great job on a checkout on a corner jumper" - that it probably wasn't fair that he was being asked to check big guys out, but that's the way it was going to be. "Life's not fair sometimes," Dunphy said he told him. "Get it done."

Brown got it done, with 11 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. The Owls outrebounded Duke. For much of the game, they had more offensive rebounds than Duke had defensive boards. They had more steals. Got to more loose balls, had as many points in the paint.

If all this tough talk sounds nice when the reality is Temple made shots, that's not how it played out. Duke made one more three-pointer than Temple. The Owls' shooting advantage came from getting to the hoop, not throwing in prayers. Krzyzewski knew what he had seen out there. During one first-half timeout, with Temple up by 24-19, Coach K must have offered a quick compliment to Temple because he finished the sentence with, "and we're playing like horse [manure]."

The Plumlee brothers should have been exempt from that statement. Mason and Miles combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds. They are big boys who go hard every possession. But Temple's Anthony Lee and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson held their own every possession. And Temple's guards - older, wiser, and quicker - held the advantage all night.

"Every time we needed a stop, it seems like we got one," Wyatt said.

There were a lot of familiar faces, Temple fans from way back, ringing the lower bowl, loving this throwback to vintage Chaney-era victories when Kansas or Louisville or Duke would come to town and leave wondering why they'd scheduled the game. Krzyzewski knew his team needed this test. It didn't mean he liked it.

"We take a very bitter loss - that's what we take out of it," Krzyzewski said.


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

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