A return of that old Big Five feeling

Posted: January 20, 2014

La Salle and Temple did their best, along with a lot of help from ESPN's College GameDay crew, to bring back some of that old Big Five feeling at the Palestra on Saturday. It had been 25 years since the Explorers and Owls played each other in the Palestra, which is hard enough to believe, but the old place seemed willing to welcome them back anyway.

The national audience might not have fully appreciated the history, but it was easy to like the basketball. La Salle won the game, 74-68, but not before losing most of two sizable leads and needing late free throws to put the thing away.

When you stripped away everything else - the cheesesteak cliches and the grainy footage that introduced the show - the basketball game made it all worthwhile, as it usually did back in the day.

"I don't know why you wouldn't want to keep the tradition of playing here. There's nothing like it in Chicago or New York or anywhere. There's nothing else like it," La Salle coach John Giannini said.

There was supposed to be an added throwback nature to the game that didn't take place. The two schools, in cahoots with ESPN, had agreed to a one-day revival of the tradition of throwing crepe streamers onto the court after the first made baskets by each team.

The deal was struck two months ago, each school bought $400 worth of streamers, and the officiating crew was made aware of what would be happening. By NCAA rule, the streamers would bring about a technical foul on the offending school, but the teams could get around that one, too. It had happened before.

In 1994, Penn and St. Joseph's brought back streamers for one game, with coaches Fran Dunphy and John Griffin agreeing that the shooters of the technical fouls would purposely step over the free throw line to void the foul shot. And that's exactly what happened, and what would have happened on Saturday. It would have been fun and colorful and pretty good television, which, by the way, is the only reason the Palestra game happened at all.

Someone in the Atlantic Ten office got cold feet at the last moment, however, and the order came down on Thursday night that there weren't going to be any streamers at what was a home game for La Salle. Maybe it was too much fun. Maybe the league can't feel the Big Five vibrations all the way down in Newport News, Va. Whatever, no streamers.

Otherwise, the game had everything, except a few extra guys on the bench for Temple, which is playing thin right now. The Owls, who have just nine scholarship players, were also missing guard Will Cummings for the second straight game because of concussion symptoms.

Temple, now 5-11, came into Saturday's game having held a lead in the second half of every game this season. After that, the Owls have had trouble closing out the games, with fatigue being a possible contributing cause.

Against La Salle, Temple allowed 61 percent shooting in the second half and would have been in position to win had it done a better job of getting the ball to the open man. Dunphy attributed that mostly to mental lapses at the end of the shot clock and agreed that being tired is a tough way to play.

"If there's fatigue, there's not a lot we can do about it," Dunphy said. "We're not going crazy at practice, using more of a mental than physical approach. It manifests itself not just on defense but on offense, too, when you might take a bad shot."

Down by five points at halftime as La Salle scored the final 10 points of the opening half, Temple drew back within a single point with 13 minutes to play, only to go cold from the field and nearly fall out of the game. When junior D.J. Peterson made a three-pointer with nine minutes left, the Explorers were up by 11, 62-51.

But Big Five games don't die that easily, and the Owls turned this game into one with a lot of help from big sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey, who finished with 21 points and continues to be one of the most intriguing developing players in the city. In the end, La Salle settled down under the hand of Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland, and the Explorers improved to 11-6.

The season goes back to normal for both teams now. Temple has to go to Connecticut on Tuesday and try to survive the rest of the American Athletic Conference season with what it has. La Salle has to try to rekindle its magic from a year ago without the particular magic of Ramon Galloway.

For one afternoon, things were different. All that mattered was the setting and the basketball and the 40 minutes of being part of something special. It shouldn't be 25 years until the next one.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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