PHILADELPHIA- Wednesday marked the 60th anniversary for Philadelphia Big 5 basketball. With rivalries running deep and emotions running high, the Temple Owls and La Salle Explorers were well represented in the stands for the first game of the double header last night at the Palestra.
Though both teams put up valiant efforts throughout the entire contest, it was Temple who came away with the victory.
Using a 10 man lineup to their advantage, the Owls took it to the undermanned Explorers, winning, 62-49.
With two of their five starters being freshman, Temple was able to add a youthful spark in the opening minutes of the first half thanks to first year players, Trey Lowe and Ernest Aflakpui. Though the game began with veterans from each team trading buckets — Temple’s Jaylen Bond scoring four points and La Salle’s Cleon Roberts dropping five — it was the two Owl neophytes that fueled a quick 5-0 run to put Temple in front.
A layup by Aflakpui and a three pointer from Lowe put the Owls up, 9-5, three minutes into the game.
It took nearly three minutes for the Expolrers to score another basket. La Salle big man, Tony Washington, hit a layup at the 15:05 mark that halted the sudden burst by the Owls, but Temple’s Lowe didn’t let the La Salle layup stop him.
The athletic freshman scored the next three points for the Owls by forcing a turnover in the backcourt and dunking through sophmore Explorer, Amar Stukes, while simutanesouly drawing a foul. Lowe completed the three-point-play by making the extra free throw, giving Temple a five-point lead with under 15 minutes to play in the first half.
Though Temple led by as many as 15 early on in the game, La Salle was able to cut the lead to eight by halftime with the Owls up, 33-25.
Lowe led Temple in scoring at the half with eight points while Aflakpui added six points and three rebounds.
“I thought they were great early on,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said of his freshmen. “I think Ern, and Trey, and Shawn Alston are going to be great for us as we move forward.
For the Explorers, Cleon Roberts — who scored the Explorers first five points — stayed hot in the first half by leading all scorers with 11 points.
Although La Salle’s star guard, Jordan Price, was held to just four points in the first half, forward, Tony Washington, was able to provide efficient scoring for La Salle by making all five of his shots. The redshirt sophmore ended the first half with 10 points.
To start the second half, La Salle looked to continue cutting into the lead. The Explorers started on a 5-0 run, which made the score, 33-32, with 18:32 left in regulation.
Despite the motivated play to start the second half, that was the closest the Explorers ever got to Temple for the rest of the contest.
The Owls were able to score eight straight points after the Explorer run, but this time it was Temple’s more experienced personnel that got the job done.
“The game got a little bit tighter in the second half,” Dunphy said. “We went with a little bit more of a veteran look.”
A mid-range jumper from Jaylen Bond, followed by two consecutive made shots by Quenton DeCosey gave Temple some momentum on offense. The run was then topped off with a three-pointer by Obi Enechionyia that gave the Owls a comfortable 41-32 lead.
The nine-point difference was large enough for the Owls to hold off the Explorers for the rest of the game, but La Salle never stopped competing.
“I thought we played with great effort,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said. “I thought our kids did everything that they could. We had a few mental breakdowns but I thought there weren’t effort mistakes.”
Tony Washington recorded an impressive double-double, scoring 16 points on a perfect 7-for-7 from the field while corralling 13 rebounds for the Exporers.
Cleon Roberts also scored 16 points for La Salle, nine of which came from behind the arc.
Jordan Price, who prior to the game was only one of three players in the nation to average at least 21.0 points per game, 5.0 rebounds per game and 3.0 assists per game, struggled against Temple.
“Price is one of those guys who can get that 4-for-21 and it could be 11-for-21 real quick that would’ve put is in a deep hole,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said of La Salle’s star. “I think we defended him pretty well. Josh was very good on Price.”
Price scored just 11 points and missed 17 of his 21 shots.
In a winning effort for the cherry-and-white, three Owls were able to reach double figures in points. Quenton DeCosey and Josh Brown each scored 12 points while Jaylen Bond added 10. Josh Brown also had a game high four assists and played 38 minutes without turning over the ball a single time.
Despite the double digit victory over his alma-mater, Dunphy expressed a true appreciation for La Salle’s gritty, never-say-die attitude.
“They’re always going to fight, they’re always going to contend. They’ve got competitors,” Dunphy said of the Explorers. “They’re going to do whatever they can to be the best team they can be and John does a really good job with that. It’s what he’s trying to do right now, to make sure that his team is very competitive, and I applaud him for that.”
If there is one thing that is for sure, it is that the teams of the Big 5 are never going to stop competing, no matter the outcome of the game, and with that effort, comes the well earned respect and pride from the Philadelphia faithful who will forever cherish their college basketball.
With several decades of experience with the Big 5, Dunphy is content to see the traditions live on.
“It’s a great part of our history…it’s to be celebrated” Dunphy said. “I got a chance to play here. I got a chance to coach here. It’s a phenomenal part of Philadelphia and I’m proud to be a very small part of it.”