A Big 5 game at the Palestra can’t end without a bit of drama.
Penn seemed to have an impressive win over Temple locked up, leading by 10 with 1 minute, 30 seconds to play. But after missed free throws, a couple of Temple steals, and turnovers off inbound passes, the Owls suddenly trailed by just five, with the ball and eight seconds left to play.
But that’s when the improbable run came to an end. Quinton Rose, who led the comeback effort, unleashed a corner three, and it rimmed out with three seconds left on the clock as the Quakers held on for a 66-59 win in front of a nearly sold-out crowd.
Excellent team defense by Penn (8-7, 2-2 Big 5) created a disastrous start for Temple (10-9, 2-1) . The Owls missed their first 11 field goals and were held scoreless for nearly 10 minutes. A Rose layup with 10:27 left in the first half broke the shutout after Penn, led by forward AJ Brodeur, built a 14-0 lead.
Penn’s stifling zone defense kept the Owls from getting to the rim and forced them into bad looks and tough mid-range jumpers. Without point guard Josh Pierre-Louis (illness) and forward De’Vondre Perry (foot), Temple had few reliable three-point options. The Owls shot 23 for 75 (31%) from the field and 1 for 13 (8%) from three.
Temple’s offensive struggles carried into the second half. Trailing by 13 with less than four minutes to play, Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis missed a layup, and center Jake Forrester’s open put-back clanked off the front rim. On the next possession, point guard Alani Moore had his three-point shot tipped, got his own rebound, but couldn’t finish an open layup. It was that kind of day for the Owls.
After Temple got to within six points and had a chance for two more at the line with 6:54 to play, Penn freshman guard Jordan Dingle drilled a three, helped force a stop on the other end, and hit another three before Temple called a timeout. Penn’s lead grew to 12 points, and Temple didn’t get within single digits until the final two minutes.
Brodeur led the Quakers with 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Only guard Ryan Betley had as many rebounds, and he added 11 points with important closing rebounds. Dingle, one of four freshmen on the court at times for Penn, shot 6 for 13 from the field and finished with 15 points.
Rose led Temple with 21 points, shooting 10 for 25 from the field and 0 for 3 from three. Forrester was the only other Owl in double figures with 11 points.
Temple knew Penn’s style of defense but still looked unprepared, taking long possessions that ended in contested, mid-range jumpers as the shot clock expired. The Owls shot just 6 for 32 in the first half and had trouble finishing on their few chances at the rim.
Temple coach Aaron McKie credited the Owls’ defense during the nearly 10-minute scoreless stretch for keeping them close enough to come back. Temple’s defense forced 17 turnovers and picked up 10 steals.
While Penn didn’t shoot the lights out, finishing 23 for 52 (44%) from the field, the Quakers made timely and important shots, particularly in the second half. Guard Devon Goodman was the fourth Quaker to finish in double figures with 12 points, shooting 5 for 11. Dingle was 3 for 6 from beyond the arc, and his second-half shots held off an early Temple push.
“That was our biggest focus, trying to keep them from getting to the rim," said Penn coach Steve Donahue. "So we tried to stay in our gaps longer. ... I just thought we really did a great job staying in front of them and making them shoot challenged twos which, I think, is really the focus of our defense any night.”
“We all missed shots early," said Rose. "It felt like there was a lid on the basket. We had to rely on our defense, which for the most part was good. It just took too long to get the offense going.”
“Just have to put the ball in the hole," said McKie. "I thought early on, even though we didn’t score the ball, our defense was pretty solid. Again, we’re just putting too much pressure on our defense because of our offense.”
Temple has lost six of its last seven games. In a season slipping away, beating Penn and keeping a chance of being the sole Big 5 champion looked like a good consolation prize for McKie in his first season. Penn ended any hopes of that just weeks before Temple hosts Villanova. An at-large bid looks nearly impossible for the Owls, and it will be conference-tournament-or-bust come March.
Penn, on the other hand, put an end to a three-game losing streak that Brodeur said was “three weeks in the making.” The Quakers’ last win before Saturday came against Howard on Dec. 30. After losing to Princeton twice in back-to-back weeks and falling at home to St. Joseph’s on Jan. 18, Penn was able to get back on track with an exclamation point before getting into the thick of conference play.