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:

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).