Article & Videos by: John Knebels
Photos: Zamani Feelings
PHILADELPHIA –They can say all the right things, about how every game is important and every opponent is the same.
But when two Philadelphia Big 5 teams clash, regardless of records, the time of year, or the venue, there exists a little something extra in the air, a wave of nostalgia that welcomes both the young and the old to join the spectacle as special guests.
While the intangibles were certainly on display December 1 when Temple University visited St. Joseph’s University in a non-conference duel, at the end of the day, it was the scoreboard that mattered most.
Temple 77, St. Joseph’s 70.
“Any time you can win a city game, it’s critical,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “Any win that you get is critical. But I think in the city of Philadelphia with our history and tradition with the Big 5 and the Philly 6 so much a fabric of this city, it’s important to win these games. There are a lot of people that we are representing. There’s a lot of pride. It’s great to get this win today.”
The Owls (2-0 Big 5) ushered in the final month of the calendar year with their seventh victory in eight tries, but it wasn’t easy.
SJU (4-4 overall, 0-1 Big 5) took advantage of spotty Temple marksmanship and a rebounding edge to forge a 41-33 lead at halftime. With the boisterous home crowd doing its best to drown out the loud Temple cheering section under the east basket, the Hawks appeared to be in good shape.
The second half, however, was a different story. A suffocating Temple defense, combined with SJU missing several layups and suddenly losing the battle of the boards, methodically altered the momentum. So too did the disparity at the free throw line. While the nearly perfect Owls finished 17 of 18 while the Hawks connected on a subpar 15 of 23.
“I think our defense obviously changed,” Dunphy acknowledged. “We were struggling . . . but we found a way in the second half. Our defense really picked up. We made some big shots, and I am grateful to come out with a win.”
Among the side notes of the 161st contest between the two rivals (Temple leads 92-69) was a bragging rights battle between Temple senior Shizz Alston, Jr., and SJU redshirt junior Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble. Both were local high school stars (Alston at Haverford School; Kimble at Neumann-Goretti) and former teammates in AAU ball.
Alston finished with 15 points, six assists, five rebounds, and one steal in 37 minutes of playing time. Kimble countered with 12 points and three rebounds in the same amount of opportunity.
“On the court, it’s the enemy,” said Kimble. “We battle it out. He’s a competitor; I’m a competitor. After the game, it’s all friendly competition and it’s all love at the end of the day. That’s my brother forever. I want him to do great on the court just like I know that he wants me to do great on the court.”
According to Alston, the pair can trace their mutual respect back to more than a decade.
“It’s fun,” said Alston. “We’ve known each other’s game since about sixth grade. We practiced and played against each other every year. It’s nice. He knows my moves; I know his moves. It’s always fun to play against guys like that.”
Temple received much more aid from its substitutes than did St. Joe’s. Although starters Quinton Rose (15 points, five assists), Nate Pierre-Louis (seven points, 13 rebounds), De’Vondre Perry (nine points), and Archbishop Carroll graduate Ernest Aflakpui (seven points, five rebounds) offered pivotal contributions, it was the play of J.P. Moorman II (nine points, three assists, two blocks), Alani Moore II (seven points, one steal), and Justyn Hamilton (six points, four rebounds) that offset a combined seven points and five rebounds from Temple’s bench.
Up next for Temple is a Wednesday night visit to defending national champion Villanova.
Although the Wildcats lack the pedigree from last year, they are still ranked 21st nationally and figure to improve as the months approach March Madness.
It will be interesting to see what kind of a response Dunphy receives when his name is announced. Despite being on the road, Dunphy was honored by the classy SJU crowd with a long, respectful ovation when his name and picture were flashed on the scoreboard.
“I really appreciate the greeting early,” said Dunphy, who will retire at the end of the season. “That was very nice, very touching, and I appreciate it very much. I owe a lot to the St. Joe folks over the years. They’ve been very good to me and very kind.”
Just another small chapter in the encyclopedic Big 5.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)