BY: GREG STARKS
PHILADELPHIA - Temple University escaped the Daskalakis Athletic Center (the DAC) with a narrow 66-64 victory over the Drexel Dragons on Tuesday night. The victory gives the Temple Owls their first Big 5 win this year and keeps their undefeated season alive, pushing their record to now 3-0. For Drexel, the team now drops to 0-2 in Big 5 play and 1-2 overall in the season.
It was Drexel’s home opener and their first ever home Big 5 game. Adding on top of that, it was the first time Temple was coming to play at the DAC since 1985. This led to a sold out arena with fans from both Drexel and Temple coming out in full force to support their squads.
“This was a great atmosphere,” said Temple head coach Adam Fisher, speaking how the crowd impacted his game plan. “Anytime you go on the road, especially in the Big 5, it was awesome. We knew going into it, the place was gonna be rocking...But how about our fans? Our fans behind the bench were awesome. I saw a lot of cherry and white behind that bench screaming and just as loud. So, I’m proud of our fans for coming out tonight and supporting us...I hope those same fans bring at least 8,000 more on Saturday.”
The traditional Big 5 streamers came raining down in the DAC for the Dragon's first Big 5 match-up vs. Temple. - PSD Photo by Greg Starks
The noisy atmosphere may have unsettled Temple at the beginning of the game because the Owls fell behind early. Temple’s offense seemed to struggle with Drexel’s half court pressure defense. Inbounding the ball was made difficult by the Drexel defense, who you could tell was feeding off the energy from the home crowd.
Temple’s offense was getting some good looks from the field, but they weren’t knocking down shots and this allowed Drexel to go up 10-3 early. Seven points would be the largest lead the Dragons had for the game, as Temple seemed to shift a gear and slowly start to take over.
The Owls started to take away Drexel’s biggest weapon which was senior forward Amari Williams. Williams didn’t have his best game scoring the ball, as he shot only 25 percent from the field going 2-8. Temple made sure to send a double team every time he touched the ball while on the low block. This forced him to always have to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
“We knew what type of player he is,” said senior forward Sam Hofman on how Temple’s defense managed to limit the offensive output from Amari Williams. “The coaches did a great job with the scouting report and it was just a battle down there. Trying to be physical and take away what he tries to do.”
“I think everybody’s always physical with him,” explained head coach for the Dragons Zach Spiker on how Temple limited Amari’s effectiveness. “We may have a height advantage, but I think they [Temple] played with an aggressive nature that allows him [Amari Williams] to get pushed out from time-to-time.”
With Temple’s defensive game plan, the Dragon’s offense never could sustain any momentum and the Owls began to pull away in the first half.
Temple junior guard Hysier Miller #3 led the Owls on offense with 19 points in the victory - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers
Spiker tried calling timeouts to regroup and while it worked for short periods of time, Temple found ways to just increase their lead whenever the Dragons got a sniff of retaking the lead. The first half ended with Temple leading 32-25.
The second half highlighted the sheer determination within the Drexel Dragons squad. Temple made numerous runs during the second half that looked to end the Dragons once and for all, but Drexel didn’t go down without a fight.
This was all down to the heroics of senior guard Luke House, an Archbishop Carroll grad. Luke had a phenomenal game shooting the ball. He scored a game high 20 points shooting around 54 percent from the field and shooting 67 percent from three going 4-6.
“The reason we were in that spot was because of this guy [Luke House] right here,” said Spiker, talking about the performance of House. “He was great. We all were struggling and he had the confidence to take those shots because he works as hard as anybody I have ever coached.”
“My coaches and teammates are always encouraging each other, making sure that everybody stays positive. It’s a game of runs. Everybody knows that," said House. "Like coach Spiker said, 'sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s somebody else, but it’s always us.' So, you just stay confident and keep shooting. They’ll fall eventually.”
There were moments in the final minutes of the game where Drexel looked to be gaining momentum, but a sloppy turnover on the offensive end would kill their progress. Both sides shot poorly from the field with Temple shooting 31 percent and Drexel shooting 38 percent. But, where the Owls had the upper hand was the turnover battle. Drexel had 13 turnovers in the game, three which were stolen by Hofman, while Temple only had 5.
The Owls began to go cold from the field at a time when they really couldn’t afford to and Drexel started taking full advantage. With four seconds to go in the ball game, sophomore guard Justin Moore was at the foul line with the score at 66-63. Moore, an Archbishop Wood grad, hit his first free throw making the game 66-64, and then he missed the second. Williams was there to grab the offensive rebound, but he missed the put-back attempt that would’ve sent the game into overtime. This series allowed Temple to escape with a narrow victory.
“So many times you see the miss,” explained coach Zach Spiker as he broke down the final play of the game. “You see guys that have done that and they throw it off the backboard and don’t hit the rim. And the guy crosses over the foul-line to get his own rebound and you don’t even get a crack at it. We had a crack at it. The put-back didn’t go. We were also ready to kick it out to this guy [Luke House] or [Mate] Okros to hit a three and blow the roof off this thing. Neither one happened. As a coach, you watch the reaction. I think what sticks with me is everybody on our team surrounding our players. We went through that together. I’ll stand with that, I’ll live with that, and I’ll double down on this locker room and where we go from here.”
Looking Ahead: The Temple Owls play again Saturday, November 18 against Columbia at the Liacouras Center. The Drexel Dragons will play Fairfield Friday, November 17 back at the DAC.