No. 20 Owls secures Big 5 title with win
Temple is tops in the city. The A-10 title might be next.
Juan Fernandez sank seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points, Lavoy Allen had 17 points and 21 rebounds and No. 20 Temple beat La Salle 65-53 on Sunday in a win that helped the Owls finish with a perfect record in the city series.
"It's a big deal for me," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's a big deal for Temple basketball. From a personal standpoint, to be declared champion of the Big 5 is very important."
The Owls (24-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) wiped out a one-point halftime deficit with an 18-0 run to open the second half. Fernandez led the way, hitting four 3s during the game-changing run. He returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Feb. 3. He was coming off the bench because of concussion-like symptoms following a blow to the head on Jan. 23.
Temple won the Big 5 title with its first 4-0 mark since 1987-88. Winning the city series means as much to the competing schools as a conference title. The Owls can win one of those, also. They are in first place in the A-10.
"We've made a name for ourselves and everybody wants to beat us," Fernandez said.
Fernandez scored 20-plus points four times, including a career-high 33 in a win against Villanova, before he was injured against Fordham. The 6-foot-4 guard just wasn't the same as he tried to play with a head injury. He scored in single digits in three straight games before finally sitting one out, then came off the bench the past four games.
When he's making 3s, Temple is tough to beat. He had a quiet first half as the Owls struggled against an undermanned La Salle (11-17, 3-11) team in the first half.
Then Fernandez got hot and a potential upset turned into just another victory. He hit two straight 3s, Allen had a nice spin dunk, then Fernandez hit two more beyond the arc. Allen's next basket capped the run and put Temple ahead 50-33.
"I knew that we were going to need to make shots," Fernandez said. "I was thinking about it."
Fernandez said he's feeling 100 percent and ready to go the rest of the season.
Temple could afford to do some scoreboard watching by the time Fernandez was done hitting 3s. The Owls, Richmond and Xavier all entered in a three-way tie atop the conference standings. Xavier beat Richmond (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today, No. 23 AP) 78-76 in two overtimes on Sunday. The Musketeers and Owls are both 12-2, but the Owls own the tiebreaker because of a 77-72 win in their lone matchup on Jan. 20.
For 20 minutes, the Explorers put a scare into their city rival. The Explorers had expectations of a postseason bid entering this season (they haven't played in the postseason since the 1992 NCAA tournament) but were devastated by injuries. La Salle played without three players who combined for 2,839 points.
Jerrell Williams and Rodney Green each scored 12 points in the first half. The Explorers outshot Temple 50 percent to 36 percent in the first half and led 33-32. Green finished with 21 points and Williams had 17.
"We're missing guys that we built around," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "They're proven and they're smart and they're battle tested. I think any team if you take three of the best four players out, it changes things dramatically."
La Salle might miss the A-10 tournament. The Owls are playing for a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NCAAs.
Dunphy played for the Explorers and later served as an assistant coach. He said it pained him to see what the Explorers experienced this season.
"I can't imagine having worse luck than La Salle did this year," he said.
The Owls have won 26 city series titles, which go to the winner of games among Temple, Villanova, La Salle, Penn and Saint Joseph's. The Owls already returned to the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 and beat a Top-5 team (Villanova) for the first time since 2000 as they continue their rise back to national prominence under Dunphy.
Allen said the Owls were proud to represent the city as the best team this season. The Owls also beat the Hawks and Explorers in games that didn't count toward the Big 5 standings, making them a tidy 6-0 in Philadelphia.
"It's a great tradition and it's really big for us to win it," Allen said.