By: Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
PHILADELPHIA –Fran Dunphy sat on the sideline before Temple’s game against the University of Central Florida on Saturday afternoon to take in the allure of the Liacouras Center one final time.
He had won 579 games, the most by a head coach in Big 5 history, between his time at the University of Pennsylvania and with the Owls. He’s lived the majority of his life in Philadelphia and owes so much to what this city has done for him and his family. Dunphy attended Malvern Prep and played collegiately at La Salle University under Tom Gola, where he was a co-captain during his senior season. He earned a Master's degree in counseling and human relations from Villanova in 1979.
He’s synonymous with Big 5 basketball and his everlasting impression on the game in this city cannot be overstated. The biggest issue for him is that he doesn’t want the attention to be on him or his accolades, even if it was the final home game of his head coaching career. He wants the focus to be on the players, not him, even as former greats like two-time Atlantic 10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player Dionte Christmas or St. Joe’s Prep head coach William “Speedy” Morris, who coached against Dunphy for 15 years while overseeing his alma matter, looked on to get one last glimpse of him patrolling the sideline.
He raved about the city and what it represents to him.
“I’ve been so fortunate over my career to be at two wonderful institutions in a great city,” Dunphy said. “I’ve said it before I’ve lived in the same house since 1984 and nobody in our business does that. This city means a lot to me. I wanted to succeed in every, single way whether it’s culturally and financially. We’re not perfect but we’re a great microcosm of society in Philadelphia. We’re not perfect but we care and do great things. It’s a special place that I’ve been in all my life.”
For a man who has adored a city for decades and for a city, where he won nine Ivy League titles at the helm of the Quakers in addition to six titles with the Owls (regular season or conference tournament), that idolized him for what he accomplished on the court for so many years, Saturday was one last time for that relationship to manifest itself.
Shizz Alston Jr. was the hero for the second straight game with 21 points and Quinton Rose came alive in the second half with nine of his 11 points as Temple defeated No. 25 UCF, 67-62 in Dunphy’s last game on Broad Street. It was another outstanding performance by Alston, who erupted for a career-high 34 points on Thursday in a crucial win over UConn. Also playing in his final home game, Alston scored 12 points in the opening half. He made a behind-the-back pass to forward J.P. Moorman II, who finished with 10 points, in the corner for a triple, which gave Temple (23-8, 13-5 American Athletic Conference) its first lead of the game at 17-15 with 11:46 left to play in the opening half.
He hit a three-pointer at the 8:02 mark then later was credited with back-to-back assists on baskets by 6-10 sophomore center Justyn Hamilton (13 points) to tie the game at 29-29.
The former Haverford School standout and possible AAC Player of the Year wanted this game for his head coach to give him a proper sendoff.
“You hear so much that he hasn’t won in the tournament and this and that but he’s one of the best coaches in the country,” Alston said. “He’s a Hall-of-Fame coach. I’m just so happy that he got his just due this year. When we went to away games, they gave him standing ovations. Tonight, to give him a standing ovation meant a lot to me because we finally want him to be recognized as one of the best coaches around. I think our crowd did that.”
While Philadelphia has known Dunphy as a winner, losses in the NCAA Tournament have been seen as asterisk on his resumé. Four losses in the opening round including the crushing loss to current UPenn head coach Steve Donahue and Cornell in 2010 were deemed as losses that held Temple back from finding that winning pedigree that John Chaney, whom Dunphy replaced in 2006, had ignited within the program with four Elite 8 appearances. Add in a double overtime loss to San Diego State in the second round of Lavoy Allen’s senior season as well as a crushing defeat at the hands of Indiana in 2013 despite a 31-point outing from Khalif Wyatt, and there are reasons for the casual fan to be skeptical about what Dunphy’s legacy should be.
Listen to UCF’s Johnny Dawkins, a former Philadelphia 76er who played in this city for five years while Dunphy was at UPenn, and he’ll give the sheer gratitude and feeling that many have about the prestigious head coach.
“In our conference and coaching, he’s probably one of the coaches I’ve known the longest,” Dawkins said. “I knew him at as an assistant at American University when I used to train up there and I was really young. He always treated me great and was always willing to help. He was very supportive and an amazing teacher. I have a great deal of respect for him so I just congratulated him on the win and wished him well going into the tournaments.”
The Knights (23-7, 13-5) were just the latest top-25 foe to face Dunphy’s Owls and while those losses in the Big Dance may fester with his critics, the wins over nationally-ranked teams cannot be ignored. Temple has defeated a top-25 team in 12 straight seasons under Dunphy. His teams took down the No. 3 Wildcats in 2009, No. 5 Duke in 2012 at the Wells Fargo Center, No. 3 Syracuse the following year, No. 10 Kansas in 2014 and finally No. 8 Southern Methodist in 2016. Victories that made the university and perhaps the city as a whole celebrate were accomplished under his watch.
The Owls upended No. 17 Houston in January and they made the Knights their next victim. Senior Ernest Aflakpui scored his lone bucket of the game on a beautiful feed inside by Moorman to give the Owls a 39-37 lead early in the second half.
Aflakpui, who has corralled over 500 rebounds in his career, was also playing his last home contest and knew focusing on the task at hand would mean a lot more after the buzzer sounded.
“I was just thinking about winning,” Aflakpui said. “We had to win this game no matter what. It’s my last home game as well as Shizz’s and Coach Dunphy’s. It was just win and worry about the other things later on.”
From there, it was Rose who carried the team down the stretch. After going 1-for-4 from the floor in the first half, the junior swingman drilled a huge triple from the corner to tie the game at 48-48. Two possessions later, his finish at the rim pushed the lead to four. After the Knights had tied things up again, Rose made his biggest play as Nate Pierre-Louis recorded one of his two steals and found his teammate in transition for a thunderous one-handed slam that brought the Liacouras Center crowd to its feet. He hit a pair of free throws down the stretch and Alston closed things out with seven points in the final 1:18 including five makes from the charity stripe to seal the win.
The win locked up the third seed in the AAC Tournament but may have also solidified the Owls spot in the NCAA Tournament. Alston was a freshman the last time Dunphy led Temple to the Big Dance and he only played sparingly in a first-round overtime loss to Iowa. With the way things have been shaping out, he believes this team will not only make it but go further than Dunphy ever has in March.
“If we get in, we’re going to have a chance to make a great run, just with how everything is lining up for us and how it’s lining up for my last year and coach’s last year,” Alston said. “With the way everything is going, we have luck on our side and we can make a run.”
Following the win, Dunphy was applauded by the faithful crowd of cherry and white then stopped for pictures and warm embraces with family and friends. The moment afterward was about him but his attention remained on what his team had just done out on the court of Liacouras where he’s seen 130 wins while on the sideline. He knows what a win like this means and how it harkens back to a main ideological point he’s always tried to get across to his players. It’s also a line that a former Flyers head coach said before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals.
“They’re building memories here,” Dunphy said. “I keep going back to a famous Fred Shero quote, ‘Win today and you walk together forever.’ It’s a pretty important quote because it’s true. These guys will stay close for a long time because of games like tonight.”