Big 5 Bounced from A10 Tourney, Temple Awaits Selection Show

Big 5 Bounced from A10 Tourney, Temple Awaits Selection Show

Both the St. Joseph's University Hawks and the Temple Owls have been eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Dayton Flyers and Richmond Spiders will meet at 1p.m. tomorrow to determine a champion.

I think we might as well just address this thing in order. We'll start with the Hawks, move to the Owls and try to fit it at all together

St. Joseph's:

The Hawks got further than anyone could have ever expected. Their 64-61 defeat at the hands of the Dayton Flyers is nothing for the young team to feel shame over.

Having only won nine games all year, their mini-run to the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament is a clear sign of growth. Though no one has been officially mentioning coach Phil Martelli's job security, or potential lack thereof, the struggles of his program over the last few years have been hard to overlook. From multiple transfers to losing seasons to difficulties in recruiting, the magic of the Hawks 2004 (debatably) undefeated season seemed a far distant memory. Moreover, Phil's declaration that the run would put St. Joseph's on the national map looked more foolhardy and overblown with each successive setback.

Still, Martelli has assembled a nice young core of talent, all of whom figure to grow together as a unit over the next two to three seasons. If Jones can learn to channel his raw athelticism into consistently repeatable performances, and if Aiken can develop instincts greater than the singular ability to block shots, and if Galloway progresses on the track widelly assumed for his future, then the program could once again become a factor in the league.

Unfortunately for you SJU fans, two of those three hyptoheticals are big IFs. In the meantime, just tell your coach to chill with all that "The Hawk Will Never Die" stuff after putting together an eleven win season. There's a time and place, Phil, a time and a place.

The Temple University Basketball Owls:

As enough of you know, Saturday's 58-54 loss hits pretty close to home for me. But, in the interest of your reading enjoyment -- my number one priority at all times -- I'll do my best to divorce myself from the matter at hand.

Where to begin? Well, I suppose the top is as good as any. The Temple Owls hammered the Richmond Spiders just three weeks ago by a margin of 20. It was Temple's first match up after the loss of starting center Michael Eric to a season-ending knee injury. Beating a team like Richmond in that fashion gave both the team and its fans a huge boost of confidence heading forward. Still, I knew better than to make too much of that one outcome:

The result of this game in no way reflects the talent level of the Richmond Spiders. Kevin Anderson is an elite guard, and the substantially improved play of big men Justin Harper and Dan Geriot makes Richmond a veteran team Temple fans shouldn't be too eager to see again. The Owls are not going to shoot that well every night, and Richmond won't go quietly a second time. Chalk this is up as unexpected rolling and don't take it for granted.

And now, here I sit three weeks later, taking no comfort in the facts I knew to be true. In this case, calling it right still freaking sucks.

As for the game itself, Temple fought admirably, but succumbed to its persistent lack of depth in the face of injury. Again, absolutely nothing has changed since the Owls rolled the Spiders on February 18th:

If at any point Lavoy finds the same kind of foul trouble he did early in the year, then Temple will be forced to play a three (probably, in honest, four) guard line-up with Jefferson as the center. Also checking in at 6'6, Junior Scootie Randall, Temple's best perimeter defender, will fill in on the opposite block at power forward. This also assumes, by the way, that Rhalir is able to stay on the floor and off the PF sheet himself. If not, you're looking at graduate walk-on Dutch Gaitley as the only meaningful height on the roster.

Unfortunately, come tournament time, Temple didn't even have the benefit of Randall, whose been sidelined for the last two weeks with what is reported to be a hairline fracture on the top of his foot.

Though Temple had, thankfully, avoided the kind of foul trouble described above since losing Randall and Eric, they couldn't avoid it against the Spiders Saturday. Both Lavoy Allen and Rahlir Jefferson picked up early fouls that allowed Jason Harper, Dan Geriot and 2010 A10 MVP Kevin Anderson to create substantial match up problems for the short-handed Owls.

Anderson and Harper dominated the game and the box score with 22 and 18 points, respectively. Harper played a crafty mix of post-up and face-up play that allowed Richmond to create a dynamic mix of offense. At the top of the key, Kevin Anderson is just flat out too quick. When you're in foul trouble and he's beating his defender to the basket, back up can be, and was indeed, hard to find in the lane.

Before shifting back to Temple, I do take my hat off to Richmond coach Chris Mooney. When asked to provide an opening statement in his post-game presser, he intentionally cut himself short so as not to take attention away from the performance of his players:

"I couldn't be more -- I don't want to say too much, because growing up I would always make fun of the coaches who cried at the podium. So, I don't want to get too emotional, but I'm extremely proud of my guys."

Mooney was visibly emotional at times when answering questions, and appeared to almost choke up a bit in discussing what Kevin Anderson has meant to both the team and himself as a coach. Chris Mooney is a classy guy who shows tremendous poise both on and off the court; so, it's nice to see the guy's hard work pay off, even if it is at Temple's expense. 

For the Owls, the small squad who lived and died by the three ultimately got burnt from the long range. Though Temple asserted itself in the game early by going 5-8 from behind the arc, the team would finish the game just 7 for 25. Quick and obvious math shows that Temple only converted 2 of its final 17 attempts from three.

The most blatant example of the team's shooting woes came in the form of the streaky Juan Fernandez. The 2010 Tournament MVP struggled to find a similar string of luck in 2011. His line against Richmond Saturday is the following mixed bag of extreme pluses and minuses:

7 pts, (a career high) 10 ast, 7 reb, 3 TO, 3-17 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0-1 FT

Putting all the totals, good and bad, aside, Temple coach Fran Dunphy remained obviously confident in his junior point guard after the game:

"Yeah...I think he tried to force a couple of things. But we're going to trust Juan Fernandez with the ball...He had a couple of tough shots at the basket that I'm sure he would change if he could. But 10 assists is very good and he's a terrific player...I'll trust Juan Fernandez with the ball anytime."

For senior Lavoy Allen, Saturday was the first time in his college career that the Owls would lose a game in Boardwalk Hall. Temple fans, take a long look at your program's all-time leading rebounder when he takes the floor next week; every game from here on out may be your last chance to see him in an Owl uniform.

The NCAA selection show kicks off at 5:30 tomorrow evening on CBS. I'll be back to break down the local match ups and points of interest. Until then, I'm gonna go lick my wounds and try to salvage this hotel room in Atlantic City. Suggested locales for my persual are welcomed.

Related links:

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”