Hollis-Jefferson helps Temple to win over La Salle

Posted: January 19, 2012

LATE IN THE first half, there were nine guards on the floor and Temple forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson.

La Salle-Temple was always going to be a guard game, but just one player was on the Liacouras Center court for all 40 minutes. That, too, would be Hollis-Jefferson.

With 24 seconds left in the game, 3 seconds on the shot clock and the Owls holding a three-point lead, the ball found Jefferson about 14 feet away from the rim near the right foul lane. He very calmly set himself and drilled the game-clinching shot, his 19th point, a career best.

On a guard night, it was the junior forward from Chester who made the biggest shot of the game, a game Temple would win, 76-70.

"I'd hate to think where we'd been without him," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "I was so happy for him when that last jumper that he took goes down. Not only was that a great shot, but the two foul shots previous to that were great, too. He's a great guy and a terrific player."

Temple led for the game's final 33 minutes. The Owls led, 50-40, with 16 minutes left. La Salle was a bit off on offense, but the Explorers came hard. Three times they had the ball with a chance to lead and three times they were denied.

"The better team won," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "You have to be disappointed with giving up nearly 80 points . . . They're very good, They're very hard to stop. They're very talented offensively."

La Salle's defense has been terrific all season, but the Explorers really had not played an offense like Temple's, one that spaces the floor perfectly, has so many crafty players and is always one final pass away from leaving your defense grasping at air.

La Salle had been giving up 63.4 points per game. Temple had more than that with 7 minutes left. Teams had been shooting just 39.1 percent against them. The Owls (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic 10) shot 58.3 percent in the second half and 51.9 percent for the game. Dunphy particularly liked that his team had 10 assists on 14 second-half baskets. The very nice crowd of 8,068 got to see why Temple's offense has been so hard to guard for so long.

"If we're going to be a tournament-type team, we have to do better than 58 percent," Giannini said.

Temple's three wonderful starting guards combine to average 45 points. They had 41 against La Salle.

La Salle's four excellent starting guards average 55 points. They had 54 against Temple.

The game within the game, Ramone (Moore) vs. Ramon (Galloway), was a statistical dead heat as each scored 17 points. La Salle's Tyreek Duren (18 points) may have been the best guard on a floor with guards galore.

Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez, looking very much like himself again with the exception of an out-of-body blocked shot, each had 12 for Temple. Earl Pettis had 12 for La Salle.

The difference was the very reserved Hollis-Jefferson, who was 7-for-11 from the floor and 5-for-6 from the foul line. He is shooting a tidy 62.3 percent on the season. That midrange game-clincher is a shot he would not have tried last season.

"It's a lot of work paying off right now," he said. "These are our primary scorers [pointing to Fernandez and Moore]. I just find open spots and they find me."

And he makes shots.

"He's starting to make midrange shots, which is critical," Dunphy said. "I think he's worked really hard to get better at that part of the game. We ask him to do so much on defense . . . He's a terrific human being and it's a privilege to coach him."

The 6-6 Hollis-Jefferson is an undersized power forward for an undersized team. There is nothing undersized about his heart. You can tell he played for Chester High.

In the end, it just came down to Temple making all the little plays that turned into another streak buster. It has now been 92 games since the Owls have lost consecutive games, a tribute to the consistency of the program.

Temple averages nearly 75 points per game, the most since the great 1987-88 team averaged 76.8. Still so small inside, Temple has mostly been winning with offense. But redshirt freshman big man Anthony Lee was the defensive difference, with five blocks, most of them with a quick jump that seemed to emerge from nowhere.

La Salle (13-6, 2-2) would have beaten a lot of teams last night, but did not look quite like the ball moving, three-point shooting (5-for-15 from the arc) team it has been. Temple just makes things difficult.

"La Salle is a really hard team to guard," Dunphy said.

So is Temple - again.

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