Sunday, December 05, 2004

Temple Tops Villanova in Palestra Heartbreaker, 53-52

Villanova saw its City Series opener slip away in heartrending fashion on Saturday, as Temple fans stormed the court to celebrate a 53-52 victory in the 4th Annual Big Five Classic at the Palestra. Temple's Dustin Salisbery drained a three-pointer with 1:06 to play, providing what would ultimately prove to be the winning margin. Jason Fraser's slam was unfortunately rejected by Temple's Mardy Collins at crunch time. However, Temple's Antwyane Robinson missed the front end of a one-and-one, providing Villanova with a golden opportunity to take the contest. The Wildcats tried to win it in the waning seconds, but Curtis Sumpter's shot at the buzzer did not drop.

Temple broke the all-time series deadlock in its favor, and the Owls now lead the 'Cats, 40-39. Villanova fell to 0-1 City Series, 1-1 overall in the young season. Temple improved to 1-0 Big Five, 2-3 overall. Today's tripleheader, in which Penn battled La Salle and St. Joseph's took on Drexel, marked the beginning of the year-long celebrationoftheBigFive's50thanniversary.

Sumpter recorded a double-double with 15 points and 13 boards, enough to lead 'Nova in both categories, and was a perfect 6-6 from the foul line. However, he struggled from the floor, making just 4 of 12 shots. Fraser had a monster game on the defensive end, swatting five Temple shots and grabbing six rebounds. Allan Ray scuffled to a highly disappointing 4-15 from the floor, although he did finish in double figures with 11 points, while contributing five rebounds. Randy Foye also reached double figures with 10 points, adding a pair of assists and steals as well as four rebounds. Mike Nardi had a tremendously frustrating afternoon, making just 2 of his 12 field goal attempts (including 1-8 from beyond the arc) and committing five turnovers against three assists.

For Temple, Salisbery led the way with 15 points, with Collins and Mark Tyndale each chipping in 11. Collins also dealt six assists against four turnovers. Keith Butler had seven points and ten boards before fouling out, playing just 26 minutes.

Villanova overall was dreadful from the floor, a not uncommon fate for Temple opponents. The 'Cats shot a horrific 31% from the floor and an even worse 19% from three-point range: numbers which against virtually any other opponent, would have indicated a blowout loss. However, with Temple as the opponent, they were still very much in the game. Temple was almost as bad, making just 36% of its shots and 25% from three-point range- but those slightly better numbers spelled the difference between a one-point victory and a one-point defeat. It also didn't help that Temple's bench thrashed the 'Nova bench, with the reserve Owls outscoring the bench 'Cats 16-4. Coach Jay Wright opted to use just seven players, and even the two reserves were used sparingly: Will Sheridan played just 20 minutes and Chris Charles played nine. Sheridan had a strong game on defense, with four rebounds and three blocks in his limited action.

It was an exciting contest, marked by a dozen lead changes and nine ties. Temple shot out to a short-lived 5-0 lead, before the game began seesawing between the two schools. The Owls appeared on the verge of pulling away when they gained a 22-15 lead, following layups from Butler and Wayne Marshall at the 2:35 mark. Villanova rallied, though, finishing the half on a 8-2 run, ending when Sumpter laid it in with 13 seconds to play. Temple held a narrow one-point advantage at intermission.

Other than the horrendous shooting, the halftime numbers looked reasonably okay for 'Nova. Six different players had scored, and the 'Cats had won the battle on the glass by two, 23-21. Ray had six points to lead 'Nova, while Salisbery had seven for Temple.

Temple would gain its largest lead of the second half, when Tyndale nailed a triple with 14:46 to go. The three-pointer put Temple up 33-27, and the Owls get particularly tough when they have a lead to protect and their slow, deliberative pace can have its full impact. Villanova responded with its finest stretch of the contest, ripping off nine straight points to recapture the momentum. Fraser came up with a block and then dunked to deadlock the game at 33, and Sumpter then hit a three to give 'Nova a 36-33 advantage. The Villanova lead peaked at four, when Will Sheridan converted a jumper with 8:40 to play, putting 'Nova up 40-36. The Wildcats' last lead would come at the 2:37 mark, after a layup by Randy Foye made it 49-48. Unfortunately, Villanova scored just three points the rest of the way. Temple successfully clung to its lead, not scoring for the final 1:07, and it was just enough. Villanova's 15 turnovers, and the 17 points which directly resulted, also hampered the cause.

Entering the game, in a remarkable coincidence, the all-time series overall, as well as those played at the Palestra, and John Chaney's personal record against 'Nova, were all deadlocked. Each team had won 39 games overall, 16 apiece at the storied venue on Penn's campus, and 10 each in games in which Chaney had coached. Villanova had enjoyed a lot of success at Temple's expense in recent years: 'Nova had won four of the last five meetings, especially the 73-48 shocking opener to last year's midnight season opener at the Liacouras Center. The teams also met in the inaugural Big Five Classic, in December 2001, with Villanova triumphing. Villanova had also done quite well at the Palestra over the last couple of years: the Wildcats had won eight of their last 10 games there.

The Wildcats will try to rebound from the disappointing loss, when Monmouth travels to the Pavilion on Tuesday night. They will then return to the Palestra for another try, when they meet City Series foe La Salle on Saturday afternoon.

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