It was their first win since Dec. 21, and their first at home since Dec. 4. They'll now host No. 9 Villanova on Saturday afternoon, trying to earn a piece of the Big 5 title. In each of the last five seasons they've beaten a Top 10 team, three times on North Broad.
"It feels really good, especially at home," said Dalton Pepper, their lone senior, who scored 20 points after getting a career-best 33 points vs. Cincinnati. "But we've got a big game Saturday. They're going to come in here ready to go. We have to match that intensity, throw the first punch."
Should we mention that it was the 6-13 Owls' first victory in the new American Athletic Conference, after starting 0-7?
Rutgers (8-13, 2-6), now playing for former Sixers coach Eddie Jordan, have lost four straight and six of seven. The Knights, who were without big man Wally Judge, have yet to win on the road in the conference in six tries. The last time they swept their former Atlantic 10 rival (1982-95) was 1982-83, John Chaney's first season. This was the first meeting in Philly since 2006, when Fran Dunphy got his first win after coming over from Penn.
"We needed this very, very badly," said Dunphy, whose Owls have made the NCAA Tournament each of the last six seasons, one of eight programs to do so. "The mood, the attitude, everything's better coming off of a win. But they've kept it together pretty well. The frustration level's certainly been there, but it was held to a minimum. We worked pretty hard at that."
The Owls turned a 37-34 game into a 50-37 halftime advantage in a little over 3 minutes (they also had 50 in the second half against Cincy). Then they scored the first seven after intermission. But somehow you sensed that it just wasn't going to be that easy.
Rutgers kept cutting away. Finally, back-to-back three-pointers by J.J. Moore put the Knights ahead for the first time since 24-22, by one. The Owls would make most of the plays the rest of the way. And it was junior lead guard Will Cummings who made most of them. He had eight of their 10 points in one stretch, and hit the final two free throws with 6.5 seconds showing.
Pepper, who shot only 1-for-7 in the second half, did put in the driving layup that doubled Temple's margin from two to four with just under a minute remaining. He also made a pair at the foul line at 25.6 to turn it into a five-point game. Then Anthony Lee (15 points, eight rebounds) came up with a block underneath to keep it that way.
"Part of you is saying, 'Not again,' " said Cummings, who had a game-high 21 points, a career-best eight assists and three steals. "That's kind of your first thought. But you dig deep and do everything you can to make sure it didn't happen again."
Cummings, who missed two games and half of another several weeks ago with a concussion, went the full 40. So did Pepper. Lee played 36.
"You're tired, but that's what you want to do as a competitor," Cummings said. "You never want to come out."
Four of the eight Knights who scored reached double digits, topped by Kadeem Jack's 18. They shot 52.7 from the field, 58.8 from the arc. They did have 13 turnovers, seven more than the Owls, but only two were in the second half. The bad news was that both came in the last 48 seconds.
Temple shot 65.6 in the opening 20 minutes, 50 percent from three. That couldn't last. Still, neither would that losing streak. After dropping so many close ones, the Owls were probably overdue.
"Certainly, [Cummings'] playmaking was great," said Dunphy. "And his last two baskets [consecutive drives to give them the lead for keeps] were what sort of rescued us . . . I'd like to see that a lot."
Why not? After all, Groundhog Day is the start of a new month.