I've never attended school above the Red Line for a single day. One of the main reasons I haven't is because I've never wanted to go to a school where nights like Wednesday aren't special.
As a senior at Temple, I've been present for three major upsets. In 2008, the Owls defeated then-seventh-ranked Tennessee. In 2009, it was third-ranked Villanova. In 2010, ninth-ranked Georgetown fell. While they were all special in their own unique way, what happened at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night surpasses them all. Wednesday night had everything going against it.
Temple entered Wednesday night after narrow (and I do mean narrow) victories over Buffalo and Delaware the week prior. While both are great schools, they're the type of loss that shows up on the dreaded "bad losses" graphic in March when Jay Bilas starts yelling about mid-majors with no chance on the bubble. With an Atlantic 10 Conference that looks to be as strong as ever, Temple fans weren't exactly confident in their team's recent play.
Secondly, as has been mentioned in many articles on this site, we are in fact in the midst of the holiday break. Temple doesn't exactly have the strongest track record of students coming back for basketball games during the break. The fact that there were still tickets available at the box office on gameday wasn't exactly the most promising sign.
On paper, Duke wasn't exactly the best matchup for Temple. Temple's problems defending the paint are well-documented, with the graduation of Lavoy Allen, and the injury to Michael Eric (who is expected to return by the end of this month). Redshirt freshman Anthony Lee has filled in to the best of his ability, but he is the only player taller than 6-foot-7 that sees playing time, and he is still learning on the job to a degree. Meanwhile, Duke possesses offensive firepower inside with the famed Plumlee brothers, both checking in at 6-foot-10, and prepared to give Temple's frontcourt of Lee and forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, a talented but undersized defender, fits.
I don't think there has been a game where even the staunchest Temple fan didn't believe they had a chance at winning in the last few years. Even two years ago, when Kansas came into the Liacouras Center undefeated, the top-ranked team in the country, Temple fans believed that if they put it all together, they'd have what it took to defeat the Jayhawks. They were three weeks removed from an upset of third-ranked Villanova. What was stopping them from making it two in a row? (A lot was. They lost by 32 points.)
Wednesday night, most people didn't think Temple could win. I didn't. My friends didn't. Joe Branco didn't. Duke fans thought even less of Temple's chances. The kid we met in line to get into the arena that couldn't have been more than 15 certainly didn't. He told us Austin Rivers would be out at halftime, thus denying him a chance to score 50 points in such a blowout victory. (A Temple fan's response: "If Austin Rivers scores 50, the naked man you see security taking out of the building will be me.")
But then the impossible became possible. Dreams became reality. All of the puzzle pieces, as jumbled as they looked before the game, came together to form a magical night in South Philadelphia. Temple comes to play. The building is absolutely packed, sold out, and the student section has never seen so many people. As the magic happens, however, you run an emotional gamut.
Halftime. Temple leads 35-33. You're happy so far, but mostly that you're in the game and it's not a blowout. You figure Coach K will come out with some crazy halftime adjustment that Coach J would never come up with, and the refs will wake up and remember that THE DOOKIES are playing in this game. Despite this, there's that glimmer at the end of the tunnel that you're 20 minutes away. You think that maybe tonight's the night. Let's shock the world, boys.
Fifteen minutes left. Khalif Wyatt picks off a Duke pass and runs the length of the floor for an uncontested layup. Temple's up six.
Thirteen minutes left. T.J. Dileo picks the pocket of Seth Curry and finds a wide-open Aaron Brown for a breakaway dunk. Temple's up seven. This could happen.
Ten minutes left. Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt hit back-to-back threes. Temple is up 10. This is real.
Seven minutes left. Duke's Tyler Thornton drains a three to cut the Temple lead to four. Uh-oh, here they come.
Four minutes left. Ahead three points, Wyatt hits a three from the corner to widen the lead, coasts back down the floor with his arms outstretched like a plane as the crowd roars, and then on the next trip down, with a hand in his face and the crowd in the palm of his hand, pulls up and hits an NBA-range (and then some) three that makes the Wells Fargo Center absolutely explode.
After that, the student section began to rumble. Not because of what was happening in the game, mind you, but because of what they wanted to happen after the game. The plan became clear; there would be a court-storming in South Philadelphia tonight if the Owls could just hold on. Seconds would seem like hours, timeouts became interminable, and all of the above emotions happen in mere minutes. You talk yourself in and out of victory, trying to convince yourself that the entire student section hasn't tempted fate by congregating for a court storming with three minutes left in the game.
And then time stops. The clock strikes zero. A beautiful "I believe that we have won" chant is interrupted by a mass of humanity. The only direction you can move is down. You're getting shoved towards the basket. A girl in front of you is getting trampled. Your ankle is stuck in a folding chair. You're sandwiched between two big dudes who have one goal, and that's getting to the court. You can't breathe. And you'll never be happier.
The greatest upset of them all is the one you never see coming. Wednesday night was that in its purest form. For Temple, it's a season-changer. For Duke, it's a blip on the radar screen.
And for those that witnessed the game, it's a night to always remember. For one night, in front of a national audience, and a sellout crowd, we shocked the world.
at TEMPLE 78, DUKE 73 01/04/2012
DUKE 12-2 (0-0) -- A. Rivers 3-11 3-5 11; M. Plumlee 7-13 2-2 16; S. Curry 2-5 2-3 7; T. Thornton 2-5 0-0 5; M. Plumlee 8-11 1-2 17; R. Kelly 1-2 3-4 5; A. Dawkins 0-3 0-0 0; Q. Cook 2-6 0-0 5; M. Gbinije 2-2 0-0 5; J. Hairston 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-59 11-16 73. TEMPLE 10-3 (0-0) -- R. Hollis-Jefferson 7-10 3-3 17; J. Fernandez 1-4 2-2 4; R. Moore 4-8 0-1 9; A. Lee 6-11 1-2 13; K. Wyatt 8-12 3-6 22; A. Brown 4-9 2-4 11; T. DiLeo 1-1 0-0 2; W. Cummings 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-55 11-18 78.
Three-point goals: DUKE 6-14 (S. Curry 1-3; A. Dawkins 0-2; T. Thornton 1-1; A. Rivers 2-3; Q. Cook 1-4; M. Gbinije 1-1), TU 5-10 (R. Moore 1-2; J. Fernandez 0-1; K. Wyatt 3-5; A. Brown 1-2); Rebounds: DUKE 29 (M. Plumlee 13), TU 30 (A. Lee 7); Assists: DUKE 13 (M. Plumlee 4), TU 18 (J. Fernandez 6); Total Fouls -- DUKE 18, TU 18; Fouled Out: DUKE-None; TU-None.