Shizz Alston slammed into the ESPN2 announcers’ table, not quite able to save the basketball that the Owls point guard had just tipped away from Central Florida before the ball and Alston found the sideline. He then did a Shizz Alston thing — still sprawled on the table, Alston broke into a little smile and shook hands with both the play-by-play man and the analyst.
“His spirit has really guided us," Temple coach Fran Dunphy mentioned later.
Biggest game of Temple’s season — the latest biggest game of Temple’s season — and once again, Alston, in his last Liacouras Center appearance, in the most crucial Owls game of his career, did far more than show up for Saturday’s senior day. He held the game in his hands.
Temple has gotten used to handling fragile leads. The plan as always, get it to Alston. Just like up at Connecticut two days earlier, get Alston to the line, to seal things off. A couple of deep breaths, a few dribbles, a of couple more free throws. Life as he knows it.
When they couldn’t get an inbound pass to Alston with 29 seconds left, Alston made sure he let himself get hit.
“A little acting class I took a couple of years back came into play right there," Alston said. “They were trying not to let me, they were double-teaming me, so I knew that somebody would grab me.”
The question had come up because a reporter noticed Alston had started a little conversation with a referee even before the inbound play. He wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
The whole thing added up to Temple 67, 25th-ranked UCF 62. Shizz Alston, 21 points, six assists. Temple up to 23-8, firmly on the right side of the NCAA bubble. There’s no such thing as at-large teams being officially in, but if the Owls aren’t in, the selection committee might need to find a new line of work.
“With this team, with this year, and how it has played out, I can’t give enough credit to Shizz Alston for what he has accomplished," Dunphy said later.
In typical Dunphy fashion, the coach went there when the question was actually about the coaching job Dunphy himself has done this season. Didn’t mean Dunphy was wrong.
“He’s been spectacular, as a player, and I made this statement a couple of times — maybe I made it at Connecticut — we were up 25-24, the momentum was clearly to UConn’s side, and he just stepped up and manufactured a jumper that goes in the basket," Dunphy said. “It gave us a little bit of a cushion, a little separation. That’s as important as the two foul shots he made late in the game. Seasons change on a game, games change on a play. … Hence, from my logic days, a season can change on one play.”
UCF coach Johnny Dawkins was OK with Alston being a senior, moving on.
“I told him that, too, just so you know," Dawkins said. “I’ve always admired his game. He’s such a versatile player on the perimeter. He can play multiple positions out there with his size. He’s poised. I mean, he’s one of those guys, you never seem to rattle him, speed him up. You double-team him, he’s still moving out there at his own pace.”
Alston understands the bracketology business. He admits to studying it. Beat UCF, avoid bad losses, that should do it. He has the Owls in his bracket.
So much was on the line, Alston acknowledged. All the stakes. …. His senior day finishing off a special career, Dunphy’s last Philadelphia game of a 30-year Big 5 head-coaching run, all of it. Nothing mattered, Alston said, but getting the win. Easy to forget about the rest, even the necessity of having to box out 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall a couple of times.
The standing ovation for his coach before the game did mean a lot to Alston, he said.
“I finally want him to be recognized as one of the best coaches around," Alston said.
What was the locker room like?
“We actually gave the coach a water shower," Alston said. “I don’t know if he liked that very much. But we enjoyed it.”
He thought the crowd of 9,951, biggest of the season, was the best he had played in front of here. The whole thing, given the stakes, had he soaked it in yet?
“Not yet," Alston said. “I was mauled by a group of probably 6-year-olds a while ago [after the game]. Going from playing against Tacko to running at 6-year-olds is a little different.”
He’ll enjoy the whole thing, Alston added. “Soon.”