Hot La Salle, cold Temple in ESPN spotlight

LaSalle's Tyreek Duren , right, answers reporters' questions while teammates Jerrell Wright (left) and Tyrone Garland (center) clown around Thursday afternoon. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
LaSalle's Tyreek Duren , right, answers reporters' questions while teammates Jerrell Wright (left) and Tyrone Garland (center) clown around Thursday afternoon. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 18, 2014

The team that enters the Palestra for a Big Five game and ESPN's College GameDay program with a four-game winning streak is talking about enjoying the experience. Its best player calls it a "dream come true."

The team that comes in with a five-game losing streak is barely going to notice all the signs and commotion that come with the big ESPN circus, focused on doing everything it can to return to the win column.

La Salle and Temple meet Saturday in the highly anticipated matchup that was moved from La Salle to the Palestra at the request of ESPN, which wanted to showcase Penn's arena as part of "a weeklong celebration of college basketball's great venues," according to a network release.

"I'm very excited," La Salle point guard Tyreek Duren said Thursday. "It's a dream come true. You see the teams on GameDay and you see how excited they look, how the interviews are done with the crowd in the background. I think it's very exciting, and it's a big thing for the school as well."

The Explorers (10-6, 1-1 Big Five) have won seven of their last nine games since the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. They defeated Rhode Island, 72-62, Wednesday night.

Life isn't going as well for the Owls (5-10, 2-0), who have lost all five of their games in the new American Athletic Conference. Temple led in the second half of its last two games against a pair of nationally ranked teams, Memphis and Cincinnati, but could not hold on.

Right now, Temple's focus is on La Salle, not the Palestra or the signs or Digger Phelps.

"We've played on ESPN a lot since I've been here," said Owls point guard Will Cummings, whose status for the game is uncertain because of concussion symptoms. "So I really don't think it's going to be that much different than a regular ESPN game. It's just important to get a win."

Temple does have the upper hand on La Salle in one area. The Owls have won eight consecutive games over the Explorers, including last year's 82-74 victory at the Liacouras Center. La Salle's last win in the series came on Feb. 26, 2009, a 70-63 decision at Temple.

Explorers coach John Giannini, who called College GameDay a "phenomenon" and "a tremendous opportunity," called his team's bid to break the streak against Temple "a big deal."

"We've beaten everyone else in the Big Five and everyone else in the A-10 since these [current] players have been here," he said. "Temple is kind of like the last hurdle.

"This is the kind of a team that we haven't had success against. Certainly when you're a competitor and you're used to having success, that's a challenge that you want to rise up to. But it's going to be hard. They're really talented. They've had some critical injuries and they've just come up a little bit short against great competition."

On Tuesday, playing without Cummings and sophomore forward Daniel Dingle, Temple led No. 19 Cincinnati by two points with less than seven minutes to play before losing, 69-58. Owls coach Fran Dunphy refused to use his team's shorthanded status as an excuse.

"It's our lack of focus more than anything else," he said. "We don't have a lot of margin for error, so what we have to do is to be as solid as we can be on defense. And we have to be really good on the offensive end and not give away possessions."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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