"We played with some good intentions," Temple senior Khalif Wyatt duly noted.
After last Thursday's home loss to bottom-feeder Duquesne, coach Fran Dunphy was asked how his team would respond. He said we'd find out. We did. First, a one-point win at Massachusetts on Saturday, now this. And just like that, the Owls (18-8, 7-5 in the Atlantic 10) are right back in the running for a sixth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
"Every [win] from now on is going to be our best win," said Wyatt, who had 17 points. "We have to get as many as we can."
La Salle (18-7, 8-4), which had won four straight and six of seven, is in pretty much the same position. The Explorers, who have dropped eight straight in this series, are trying to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1992.
"The stage was set for it to be a great game," said La Salle coach John Giannini, who for whatever reason wouldn't allow his players to talk afterward. "Temple more than did their part. We weren't good. There was a lot at stake. We picked a bad time to not be at our best."
The Explorers were up six after 8 minutes. But point guard Tyreek Duren got into foul trouble. And they missed 14 of their last 15 shots before intermission. Their one make in the closing 13 minutes of the half was on a follow. It's really hard to come all the way back from that.
"We couldn't stop them," Giannini said. "They had answers for about everything we did. I think the problem was the 18. That bothered me more than the 1 . . . Seventy-four points should be plenty enough to win a basketball game. And Temple played the kind of defense they've been accustomed to over the years."
The Owls just haven't done it very much this season. And even though La Salle did shoot 56 percent in the second half (to Temple's 59), the 32 before that turned out to be the difference.
"We held them to one shot and got out in transition," Wyatt said. "That was big for us."
The Owls had five double-digit scorers for the second game in a row. Senior Rhalir Hollis-Jefferson finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds, both career highs, with 15 and 10 coming in the second half when he went 7-for-7 from the field, including three left-corner jumpers in the last 3 minutes that accounted for Temple's last six points.
"I just came out aggressive," said the soft-spoken forward. "My teammates were looking for me, and I just had it going.
"When we got up big, we didn't want to take our foot off the pedal. When it got close, we had to stop them right there."
Fellow senior Scootie Randall also had 15 and 10. Together, they also handed out nine assists.
"That's what we need him to be," Dunphy said of Randall. "He can do that."
He only needs to do it more often.
"The way he was moving, there was a hop in his step," Wyatt said. "When he went up for a rebound, it looked like he could run through a brick wall. He was having fun."
The Explorers, who had only six turnovers, were outboarded by 15. Ramon Galloway scored 12 of his 18 in the second half, but shot 4-for-15. Duren also had 12 of his 16 after the break, but had three assists in 29 minutes. Tyrone Garland scored 14 in 26 minutes off the bench. La Salle had 11 assists on 27 buckets. So Duren's absence had an obvious impact.
"We knew how much this game meant for us," Wyatt said. "I think we showed what we can do when we focus for 40 minutes. We just paid attention to detail.
"This was probably the most excited I've been to play. Everyone was talking about it."
On Sunday, Temple will be at Charlotte (18-7, 6-5), which barely lost here earlier this month. La Salle, meanwhile, travels to Rhode Island (8-17, 3-9). And the jockeying continues, probably all the way to Selection Sunday.
"Nobody says losing at Temple is a bad loss," said Giannini, whose team had given up more than 76 only once, on Nov. 18 against Central Connecticut State. "It's something a lot of great teams have done. We have to move on."
Who knows? Maybe they'll meet again in the A-10 tourney.
"We've been all over the place sometimes," Dunphy said. "You hope at this point they're seeing that light, as to how good we can be. Anytime you can be part of a championship in this city, that's important . . .
"We've had the resiliency to step up at the right time. Charlotte will be ready. We have to be more ready."