Anthony Lee had 15 points and 11 rebounds in Temple's win over St. Joe's on Wednesday. (USA Today Images)
Call it the parting of the Cherry Sea?
With 28 seconds to play and Temple up by four, Owls junior big man Anthony Lee missed the second of two free throws. And he was the only one who thought to rebound.
Lee, with all his teammates back beyond the timeline and set up on defense, bolted over the free throw line as soon as the ball hit the rim, beat every St. Joseph's Hawk into the lane and grabbed his own rebound.
"I was working on that last night in the gym," Lee said. "So I just read it. And I'm glad I timed it right, because usually they call a violation if you step over [the line]. So right when I saw it hit off the rim and I saw where it was going, I just went a grabbed it."
He was promptly fouled again and put back on the free throw line. He made two more free throws that put Temple up by six -- and up for good.
After 38 minutes of basketball that featured 17 lead changes and a margin no larger than five, Temple (4-3, 2-0 Big 5) finally pulled away from St. Joe's (4-3, 0-1 Big 5), 77-69, at the Liacouras Center Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).
While St. Joe's Halil Kanacevic and Ron Roberts -- two guys who have previously hurt the Owls -- struggled in the second half, Lee finished with a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Seven of those points came in the final 2:09, after the game was tied 65-65.
He bookended a Quenton DeCosey free throw with two lay-ins and then went to the foul line, where he made the first. Then, the miss and the rebound.
"Often times those [rebounds] don't get counted, because they say you went over the line and they take it away from you," Lee's coach, Fran Dunphy, said. "I thought he had enough sense to -- I'll wait to see it on the film -- but I thought he waited until it hit the rim.
"It was one of those lucky plays where the seas opened up for him and he got the rebound."
Lee was one of four Owls in double figures Wednesday night, along with Will Cummings and Dalton Pepper, each with a team-high 16, and DeCosey, with 10.
All three of those players had necessary bouts on the bench, albeit for different reasons.
DeCosey, who started each of Temple's previous six games, didn't take off his warmup jacket until eight minutes had gone by in the first half. He proceeded to score nine of his 10 in the frame's final 12 minutes.
"We don't have a lot of rules," Dunphy said. "Just do a good job with your time management. Just a statement, that's all. But Daniel Dingle did a job [starting in DeCosey's place], and Q was a really good basketball player tonight."
While DeCosey learned a lesson about "time management," Dunphy was forced into managing minutes himself. Temple was whistled for 12 fouls in the first half and five Owls went into the locker room with two or more fouls at the break. Junior Jimmy McDonnell, who started for the third straight game, played five minutes in the first and was called for three fouls.
To make matters worse, Lee picked up his third personal two minutes into the second and forward Mark Williams earned his third about 90 seconds later.
Then came the cramping.
Pepper, who had already scored 16, came off the floor with 10:26 to go after finishing on a fast break. He immediately went for water and spent the next eight minutes alternating between the stationary bike and using some kind of roller to remove cramps from both his legs.
This was while Cummings was jogging before a pair of free throws before he knew he'd have to stand still at the line -- also cramping.
This -- given the discipline and the fouls and the dehydration -- more than likely was not a game Temple would have closed even a few weeks ago. The Owls blew second-half leads in each of their first three games and ended up losing to Kent State and Towson because of it.
But Dunphy's decision to start McDonnell for the last three games has changed Temple's rotation and maybe provided the illusion of some depth. McDonnell's five minutes weren't anything special -- as that stat line above plainly shows -- but the box score ended up showing something else by game's end.
Temple's bench had outscored St. Joe's, 25-2. Against Kent State last month, it was Temple's own reserves that were beaten, 22-2.
It's not something you thought you'd hear before the season, but Temple is 3-0 in games started by McDonnell, who spent three seasons with the Owls cheering at the end of the bench. For what it's worth, he's yet to score in just over 13 total minutes.
But the Owls have nine scholarship players on this roster, and Dunphy's now using all of them. To the benefit of his team.
"Really, it's because of Jimmy," Dunphy said. "He's a good human being. He deserves this opportunity. We, just kind of flying by the seat of our pants, gave him a chance and I think he rewarded us with some pretty good play. But I think really there's more of a mental piece to it. It's not a statement about anybody else, it's just a statement about Jimmy McDonnell and how much he deserves to be out there."
Judging by the results, you'll probably see McDonnell starting again on Saturday, when Temple hosts Texas at the Wells Fargo Center at noon.