In the battle for Big 5 Player of the Year, Ramone Moore put forth his best effort when it mattered most. The fifth-year senior posted a game-high and career-high 32 points in Temple's 78-67 win over Villanova Saturday evening.
"I just tried to be aggressive," said Moore after the game. "I knew it was going to take a big game from one of us to beat these guys."
Indeed, in the last three meetings between Temple and Villanova, it's been that one marquee performance that's made the difference, and ultimately decided the outcome. Two years ago, it was Juan Fernandez with a career-high 33. Last year, it Maalik Wayns with a team-high 21.
This year, it was Moore's turn.
"We can't win this game without him having this kind of game," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "He's had a number of these kinds of games over the years, when we need somebody to step up."
It wasn't totally smooth sailing, though, for Ramone, who struggled to find his shot in the first half and quickly found himself in foul trouble. "In the first half, my three wasn't going down," said Moore. "So I said to myself, 'I'm going to start driving."
And drive he did. Scoring 23 of his 32 in the second half, Moore embodied the reincarnation of former Temple Owl Mark Tyndale with the way he tore to the basket. And while he never totally found his jumper, he did just fine from the line, converting 14 of his 15 attempts.
While Moore will get the credit for leading the team in scoring—credit he is very much due—it was Rahlr Hollis-Jefferson who did, as both coaches Dunphy and Wright put it, all the "little things." And, really, Rahlir has a special ability to make those "little plays" look and feel like big plays.
"He had two great tip-ins today," said Dunphy. "They were critical tip-ins at the right time for us."
Hollis-Jefferson has developed something of a habit in the early stages of this, his junior, season when it comes to using his length and vertical leap to make plays that spark his team, be they dunks, alley-oops, tip-ins or a career-high 14 rebounds against Villanova. Chipping in with eleven points, Saturday was the second double-double of the 6-6 power forward's career, and first of the season.
For Villanova, Maalik Wayns led all Wildcat scorers with 23, but as coach Jay Wright would reiterate multiple times after game, his teammates "didn't give him much help."
Dominic Cheek looked sharp after knocking down two early 3-pointers, but would fade from the game in the second, ending up just 3-10 shooting . Darrun Hilliard, who has been one of 'Nova's best jump shooters this year, finished 0-8 from the floor and 0-5 from behind the line. Other than Cheek and Wayns, only one other Wildcat—Mouphtaou Yarou—finished in double figures, and he played just 19 minutes.
"We had real difficultly guarding their guards," said Villanova coach Jay Wright. "They were playing, at times, five perimeter people. So, we were trying to match up defensively."
In that way, Temple's lack of height—a perceived disadvantage prior to the game—actually worked in its favor, forcing Villanova to respond to an abnormally small lineup it wasn't prepared to handle.
"They're really long and quick to the ball," said Wright of Temple's lineup. "Rebounding isn't just being big, they're really quick to the ball. [When] you've got a big guy like Mouph, and if you're playing against a thick center at Syracuse, that's a good thing, but when you're playing against quicker guys that go after the ball…"
Whether they would have been better off continuing to play Yarou to pound Temple inside on offense, rather than trying, and failing, to match up on defense, is a question that will probably keep Wright awake tonight.
Manning the bench at the other end of the floor, coach Dunphy saw Temple's undersized rotation as neither an advantage nor disadvantage, only "the hand [Temple's] been dealt."
"It's what we do," said Dunphy "We don't have a myriad of options. We have guys out there where everybody is the same size. One thing we can do is just switch everything, which helps us.
"It's just how we play."
And on that front, when it comes to how Temple plays, it was Wright who captured the tone of the night. "They made so many little plays, you know? A lot of Ramone Moore's plays were like tip-ins, great drives, just really smart plays. I think they're a really smart team."
On Saturday in North Philadelphia, Villanova didn't just lose to a smarter team, but to, as Wright put it, "a better team."