Hollis-Jefferson leads Temple to share of Big 5 title

Hollis-Jefferson leads Temple to share of Big 5 title

February 22, 2013, 12:00 am
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He's probably the quietest member of the Temple roster, and he's responsible for making the Liacouras Center the loudest it's been all season.

Senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson turned in the strongest performance of his college career to lead Temple to an 82-74 win over La Salle and a share of the Big 5 championship (see Instant Replay).

It's the program's 27th Big 5 title dating back to the group's formation in 1954, the most of any team. By virtue of their 3-1 records in round-robin play, the Owls will split the championship with the Explorers.

"I think any time you can be part of a championship or co-championship in this city is really important," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "That's the nicest thing thing that happened to us tonight. Obviously we won another league game, but we also got a share of a title that is very meaningful to all of the people who have followed the Big 5 for so many years."

And there's no one more responsible for the honor than Hollis-Jefferson. In a game billed as a showdown between the two leading scorers in the Atlantic 10 -- Khalif Wyatt and Ramon Galloway -- Hollis-Jefferson led all scorers and rebounders, setting two new career highs on 23 points and 18 boards. He also tied his career high of nine field goals on 14 attempts and finished with his fourth double-double in four years.

Of course, he didn't have too much to say about it. It's just not his nature.

So others brag for him.

"Rahlir was just spectacular," Dunphy said. "As I've said hundreds of times, there's no better kid I've ever had a chance to coach. And the reality is, if we're going to be a good offensive team, he's going to get mid-range jump shots. That's just the way people are going to guard him. Tonight, he stepped up, and I don't know how many he made. I know he made at least three in a row."

Those three all came inside the final four minutes on three straight Temple possessions. Two of them came from the exact same spot on the baseline. His 6-2 mini-run, from 3:17 to 1:44 to play, extended the Temple lead to 16 and helped ice the game after a resurgent La Salle team had cut a 22-point second-half deficit to as little as nine with 5:35 remaining.

But Hollis-Jefferson hasn't always had the most consistent jump shot. When he arrived on campus four years ago, he used every bit of athleticism he had inside his long 6-foot-6 frame to rebound the basketball and finish offensive putbacks. The jumper didn't start to show up until his junior year, and it's always been something of a work in progress.

"I've just been working very hard," he said in his typically soft-spoken voice after a long pause. "I've been in the gym with coaches just getting up a lot of shots. Just getting reps up. They always tell me 'repetition' so that's what I've been doing."

Unfortunately for La Salle, who dropped to 18-7 overall and 8-5 in the A-10 (see story), extending Hollis Jefferson's range did nothing to keep him off the boards. Seven of his 18 rebounds came off the offensive glass, and three of his field goals were elevated tip-ins off his teammates' misses.

"Those tip-ins were a result of us getting beat off the dribble," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "Rahlir's man would go to help or take a charge and Rahlir was left without someone on him. When a good rebounder is left without a body on him, that's what's going to happen."

His three straight finishes at the rim -- two putbacks and a thunderous dunk from 10:47 to 8:47 -- stopped La Salle from ever generating enough momentum to climb all the way back into the game.

"[The margin] was getting to nine or 10 and he let us have a little bit of a cushion," Dunphy said. "He also did a great job offensive rebounding the ball. He had a couple of tip-ins that were just terrific for us when we were struggling a little bit to score points.

"I'm going to miss him greatly, not only as a player but as a human being when he finally leaves Temple."

That said, Dunphy has him for at least another five games. Temple (18-8, 7-5) will travel to Charlotte this Sunday before closing out the regular season against Detroit, Rhode Island, Fordham and VCU. From there, it's on to the Atlantic 10 tournament in Brooklyn, where the Owls will try to secure their sixth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.

To do so, Temple will need to play the kind of defense it did in the first half Thursday night -- when it held La Salle to just one field goal for the final 13 minutes of the frame -- and not the kind it played in the second -- when the Explorers made 18 of their 32 looks. The Owls, historically known for their defense, have allowed each of the six teams they've played in February to score at least 70 points.

"They are frustrating," Dunphy said, referencing his team's constant up-and-down nature. "It's just one of those interesting things about teams. Sometimes the individuals are as good as you can get, but the personality of the team is a little bit frustrating and fractured. I don't mean that in a bad way, but they're all over the place sometimes and they get out of the character."

"If there's one characteristic of this team, we are inconsistent, and that's troubling. But there's another characteristic that there is no quit in these guys … There's a resiliency that I think is also attributable to the seniors in our program that really do a good of stepping up at the right time."

Seniors like Hollis-Jefferson, Scootie Randall, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Wyatt, who came into Thursday night averaging 23.4 points per game in conference play.

"Down the stretch, we need all these wins," Wyatt said. "So from now on, every win we get is going to be the best win we ever had."

Temple's win was Dunphy's 152nd with the program, moving him past Don Casey for fourth on the all-time Temple list. … Khalif Wyatt's 17 points were the fewest he's scored since Jan. 10 (12 games). … Scootie Randall's double-double was the second of his career. ... The Owls finished the game an even 50 percent from the floor on 30-for-60 shooting. ... Led by Hollis-Jefferson's 18 and seven, Temple out-rebounded La Salle 42-27 overall and 15-7 on the offensive glass. … Temple announced a sellout crowd of 10,206, the 14th sellout in Liacouras Center history.

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