La Salle stuns Big 5 rival Temple in final minute

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

La Salle 87, Temple 83 – Box Score

The Temple Owls were off to a tremendous start to the season: 3-0, winners of the Charleston Classic, and flush with RPI-boosting victories over Old Dominion, Auburn, and Clemson. Big 5 basketball is an entirely different animal though, something the La Salle Explorers were eager to prove Sunday afternoon at the Tom Gola Arena.

After an 11-0 Explorers run in the second half erased a double-digit Owls lead to tie the game at 66, the two teams remained close heading into the final minute. Down by one, Explorers redshirt junior Pookie Powell controlled the ball at the top of the key. With the shot clock winding down, Powell let it fly, connecting for 3 of his career-high 29 points to put La Salle in front for good with 39 seconds remaining. After the game, Powell discussed having the confidence to step up for his team in that crucial moment:

“I practice on that shot a lot. I’ve taken many reps on that shot so I felt confident when it left. The shot clock was going down, the ball was in my hands, and coach always told me to make a play so that’s what I had to do.”

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was not happy with his team’s defense for the majority of the contest, but gave Powell all the credit for making something out of nothing on that critical play:

“Powell was terrific. That last three that he shot was spectacular. It was a really hard shot. I thought we guarded that pretty well.”

The story throughout the evening was the turnover disparity between the two clubs. Although the Owls shot 55.7% from the field, La Salle was able to get back into the ball game by forcing 13 Temple turnovers, while committing just 4 themselves. In particular, two costly turnovers by Temple sophomore Quinton Rose bracketed the Powell three in the closing moments. Rose showed flashes of dominance throughout the game, collecting team-highs of 21 points and 7 rebounds, but his 5 turnovers are something he needs to improve upon, as Coach Dunphy acknowledged:

“I have to live with some of the things that he does. There are a couple things that I wish he would not have done today. But we’ll work it. He’ll work it. He’ll be better the next time.”

Still, Rose, one of the final cuts for Team USA’s U19 squad, is an enormously talented player and a large part of Temple’s future. Dunphy was quick to add that he won’t hesitate in putting the ball in Rose’s hands again in a similar spot.

One of the most intriguing matchups of the night was between Temple senior big man Obi Enechionyia and La Salle redshirt senior B.J. Johnson. Enechionyia went about his work in a quiet, efficient manner. He joined the 1,000 point club at Temple during the game, finishing with 16 points on 4-5 shooting from behind the arc. La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini was succinct in his analysis of what makes Enechionyia such a difficult player to guard:

“Be 6’10” and rain threes from any range. And have a quick release. Not many guys like him are out there.”

With Enechionyia, Rose, Shizz Alston, Jr. (18 points), and Josh Brown (11 points, 7 assists) all contributing for a deep Temple roster, it was up to B.J. Johnson to carry a heavy load alongside Powell for the Explorers. As usual, La Salle’s leading scorer was up to the challenge, tallying 25 points while playing the full 40 minutes of the contest. Johnson never seemed to force the action, letting shots come to him within the flow of the offense to bury the Owls from all angles with a quick, left-handed release on his jumper. Giannini was extremely proud of the effort shown by his two upperclassmen:

“He [Johnson] has really simplified his game to accentuate his skill and athleticism. Those two guys [Johnson and Powell], they’re just veteran and they’re good. They know I believe in them.”

For the Owls, this loss is a disappointment, but serves as a good reminder to remain focused each and every time they take the court. On the other sideline, a La Salle victory moved them to 2-0 on the season in Big 5 play, allowing them to set some pretty high goals for themselves, as Johnson alluded to after the game:

“Coach drills in our heads that the Big 5 champion always goes to the tournament. We got a lot of seniors and we don’t want to go out without getting to a tournament.”

La Salle has shown it’s capable of competing against top-notch competition on a given night. If the Explorers can find a way to do it more consistently, those fans throwing blue and gold streamers Sunday night might have a postseason berth in March to celebrate as well.

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