In the waning moments of overtime, La Salle's Earl Pettis held the ball and watched the clock run before unleashing a three-point attempt with six seconds left.
The ball rattled off the back iron before finding itself in the hands of Explorer D.J. Peterson and then teammate Sam Mills, who hurled another three, as time expired, that also found the back of the rim before falling harmlessly to the floor.
And just like that, the Temple Owls -- who led by as much as 10 in the second half before finding themselves tied at the end of regulation -- escaped Tom Gola Arena on Tuesday night with a 80-79 win over the Explorers.
"It would have been poetic justice, to be honest with you, with the way Earl played, if that ball had gone in," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "We just got lucky at the end.
"We just escaped."
The win was the Owls' 11th in a row, the most by a Temple team since 1999-2000, and advances them to 22-5 on the season and 11-2 in the Atlantic 10. La Salle (18-10, 7-6) has dropped four of its last five games.
Pettis finished with a career-high 33 points and scored 18 of his team's final 20 to lead all scorers on 11 of 21 shooting. So, when the time came for an Explorer to try to close the game, it was no surprise to anyone that Pettis was holding the ball, just inside the timeline, waiting to make his move.
"I was just looking to be aggressive, and whatever the defense gave me, I was going to try to make a play," Pettis said as his coach, Dr. John Giannini, nodded beside him.
Really, Giannini thought his team had it won twice.
"We were so close," Giannini said. "I thought both those shots were in. D.J. Peterson got a great rebound to get Sam Mills an extra look, and Sam's shot looked like it was in.
"We got two good shots. Both dead on, but just a little long."
On defense, the Owls knew what was coming -- it just came down to whether or not they could stop it.
"We pretty much knew Pettis was going to shoot it," said Temple's Khalif Wyatt, who led his team with 25 points. "It was us against them. It ended up me versus Pettis at the end. He got a pretty good shot off. I played pretty good defense and got a good contest. And... thank god he missed it.
"Then they got another opportunity in the corner, and Mills had as good of a shot, too. Thank god he missed it."
It was more than appropriate that the final possession came to down to a one-one-one matchup between Wyatt and Pettis, the game's two leading scorers who continually carried their teams over the last 25 minutes. Unfortunately for the Explorers, it was Wyatt, unlike Pettis, who was aided by sizable contributions teammates Ramone Moore and Micheal Eric.
Moore finished with 18 points and set a new season-high with nine rebounds. Eric, the Owls' 6-foot-10 center, tied a career-high with 18 points, added 12 rebounds and recorded another career-high with six blocks for his fourth double-double of the season.
"The biggest factor in the game was Micheal Eric," said Giannini. "I mean, those six blocks, and some of the shots he changed were everything. We made our share of shots except for shots at the rim. And that's Micheal Eric."
After an uneven first half that saw both teams make sizable runs and Temple up by three at the break, the Owls stretched their lead to eight on three separate occasions in the second, but could only watch as the Explorers drained repeated jumpers to storm back and go ahead, 50-49, with 11 minutes left.
That, luckily for Temple, is when Wyatt showed up. The junior guard scored 10 straight points on two threes, a dunk and a leaner to give Temple its largest lead to that point, 59-50.
But La Salle fought back once more and went on an 11-1 burst to close regulation tied at 71, after Wyatt, who admitted afterwards that he lost track of the game clock, got caught dribbling as time expired. Pettis was responsible for every point in the run.
Overtime seemed improbable given the Owls' 72 percent shooting on 13 for 18 field goals in the second half. But in spite of the loss, and in spite of his team giving up those shooting totals, Giannini had nothing but praise for both teams.
"I, like any coach, don't really have a problem with honest criticism," he said. "I've been in here and talked about games where we played good defense and games where we played bad defense. I'm sitting here, and looking at them shooting 72 percent in the second half, and I'm telling you, we were playing good defense. We were playing hard. They are amazing.
"They do two things. They get good shots and they make 'em. It's a good combination. We were defending as hard as we possibly could and they shot 72 percent. I would be happy to criticize ourselves, but I have to praise Temple.
"They're a pain in the butt."
The two teams were not without their flaws, however. Both Temple and La Salle had even assist-to-turnover ratios with 19 to 19 and 13 to 13, respectively. And even if Giannini was right about the effort of defense, it didn't change that fact that neither team could defend in the second half, as both shot over 50 percent from the floor.
Giannini was adamant after the game that the performance was in no way a "moral victory." Instead, he stressed how crucial a win could have been to his team.
"If we would have won it, because of Temple, where Temple is, it's the kind of game that could have gotten us into the postseason," Giannini said.
But now it appears as though the Explorers will have to win the Atlantic 10 tournament if they are to make the NCAA tournament. Temple, on the other hand, after Tuesday's win is on the verge of locking down a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
The victory also guaranteed the Owls at least a share of this year's Big 5 championship. They'll play Saint Joseph's on Saturday for the city title.
E-mail Nick Menta at firstname.lastname@example.org.