It had all the makings of a classic. Villanova and Temple, both ranked in the top 25 at the start of the night. Philly players on both rosters, familiar faces, star power, bragging rights on the line, and a packed Pavilion with a buzz in the air. What did this perfect storm of Big 5 basketball amount to? In a word or two, blue-balls.
As a Temple graduate, but the son of a Villanova graduate and a Wildcat season ticket holder for 10 plus years, I entered the game torn.
On one hand I have a team I have bled for, for a little over a decade and personally watched grow from irrelevance to national staple.
On the other hand, I have my Alma Mater, and my own school’s pride. A team I have watched transform itself into becoming a lock for the NCAA tournament (the first round at least). A team I drove 19 hours to watch get man handled in the first round of the NCAA tournament by a fantastic Cornell team.
Not wanting to root against either, I decided to just root for a good atmosphere, good basketball, and maybe a tie. Realizing that a tie may not happen, I was sure the atmosphere would be electric and the basketball would be top of the line. I was mistaken.
What began as a fluid, uptempo game between Philadelphia’s two top teams quickly transformed into a slow, bruising free-throw contest on New Year’s Eve Eve at The Pavilion on Villanova’s campus.
Early on, with both teams hitting shots and a nice pace to the game, it looked as if the crowd would be in for a treat. Then, a relatively silent first half Villanova crowd woke up. After a couple questionable calls or no-calls sent the Villanova contingent into a tissy that seemed ugly at times, referees quickly grabbed control of the game, sending what looked like a track meet, into a game of “Who’s turn is it for this call?”
With each whistle against the Cats, came a roar from the Villanova faithful, who at one point, cheered sarcastically louder for a whistle against Temple than it did for a huge 2nd half three from Corey Stokes. It seemed at times, both crowds were more interested in chastising the refs, than in watching great basketball. It was almost as if the refs finally gave in and said, “If that’s you want it, that’s how you’ll get it,” leaving the basketball fans in the building to wonder what if?
However, it is hard to blame the Villanova students, because they simply were not there. Don’t blame winter break either, because the Temple students were in the building, and they were the ones who had to travel. Maybe because Temple students view this game as a bigger rivalry than the Villanova students. Or perhaps they had already traveled to their New Year’s Eve destinations. Whatever the reason, the Nova Nation was absent, and with them a youthful exuberance was replaced by old, musty bitterness.
As for the game itself, with Corey Fisher marred by foul trouble and relative ineffectiveness, it was Maalik Wayns and Corey Stokes who picked up the slack and led Villanova to its 11th win of the year. Thanks to a couple “get out of your seat” drives from Wayns and picturesque jumpers from Corey “Strokes,” there was a little beauty to behold between foul shots.
Alliteration aside, coming into the game, the Temple Owls were supposed to be the inferior offensive team. Nobody told Ramon Moore and Juan Fernandez however, as the two combined for 25 of Temple’s 40 first half points, on 7-9 shooting and 5-6 from three point range. For an offense that has had a couple low points this season, 40 halftime points against a Villanova team that plays pretty tough man to man defense was a feat in itself. Temple, a team not known for its 3 point shooting, got their lead in just that manner in the first half, remnants of last years outing when Temple made 11 three pointers to stun the 3rd ranked Wildcats.
It wasn’t just Fernandez and Moore that fueled the Owls however. Junior Scootie Randall was also able to knock down open shots in the first half, alleviating some of the pressure put on Temple’s back court. The Owls also got some good minutes in the first half from seldom used Sophomore T.J. DiLeo, giving them some defense and ball handling to help break the Wildcats 1-2-1-1 press. It was the breaking of the press for Temple that allowed them to find open shooters in transition.
The second half of the game was a back and forth affair as Nova led by as many as 10 only to see Temple come storming back and actually take the lead on a 3 pointer from Randall with just over 9 minutes left. However, Corey Stokes tied it with a 3 of his own and continued to hit big shot after big shot ending the night with 24 points, hitting 5-8 from three point land. Wayns finished with 21 points himself, and though he did not shoot the ball very well in the second half, he was 8-8 from the free throw line and handled the ball when it mattered most.
Lost in his own shooting performance was the defensive job Corey Stokes did on Ramon Moore in the second half. After 13 points in the first half, Moore was hounded by the bigger, more physical Stokes and forced into 3 points on 1-12 shooting.
Ironically enough, one of Stokes’ biggest plays of the game was a foul. With Villanova up 5 and both teams trying to get a little momentum during the whistle fest, Lavoy Allen took a bounce pass and seemed poised to throw one down and surely rouse the Temple faithful. However, the senior leader did not give up on the play and fouled Allen, making him earn 2 from the line. Consequently, the Temple center made 1 of 2 and Nova came back down and hit 2 free throws of their own to push the lead back to 6. For Lavoy Allen, it was a microcosm of his night, as he was nowhere to be found in the first half and garnered most of his stats from the free throw line and late in the second half when the game was seemingly out of reach.
For Villanova, it was their depth and physicality on the defensive end that proved to be the difference in the end. The exclamation point possibly being an exhausted Juan Fernandez, seemingly throwing in the towel and willingly committing his 5th foul with about a minute left. Like a boxing match, Villanova delivered body shot after body shot, until a tired Temple team finally gave up and was knocked out. With only 6 players playing double digit minutes for Temple (one of which, Michael Eric, playing 12), compared to Villanova’s 7 (with an 8th, Maurice Sutton playing 9 minutes), it was easy to see why the Owls were so tired.
It was the perfect barometer for a Villanova team about to start a rugged Big East schedule. In a conference, with no real cupcakes and known for its physical play, it was good to see that Villanova can win when not everything is going right. “Winning ugly” is something every coach loves to see from time to time. You’re not always going to get great games from your best players and it is not always going to be a beautiful game, so it is nice to see other players step up and do the little things that help you win games.
Call me selfish. Maybe my expectations were bloated. Maybe I wanted a little more out of this game than was possible. However, there were 45 fouls called and 59 free throws were shot. That means for every one minute of basketball action you get at least 1 foul called and about 1.5 foul shots taken. Factor in every other stoppage you have in a nationally televised college basketball game and what you have is one big tease.
It was not the best atmosphere. It was not the prettiest of games. And somebody had to lose. However, I don’t think Jay Wright cares what I, or any other person in the stands thinks, as long as the number on the Villanova side of the scoreboard is higher than the number on the other side. A win is a win. I’ll just have to wait till next year to get my beautiful game.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.