- Apollo Creed
PHILADELPHIA - The Broad Street Bullies
was one of the great nicknames in all of sports history, just as the building they played in - The Spectrum - was a legendary sports arena that hosted a big basketball game or two along the way. And, of course, a big boxing extravaganza as well, even if it may not quite have been entirely real.
But if you turned north on Broad Street instead of south from downtown, eventually you'd run into the campus
of Temple University
, where a guy by the name of John Chaney made a name for himself by doing more with less for decades, somehow getting big-time recruits to come play in McGonigle Hall, a 4,000-seat relic. Well, to be fair, most of the time, Temple didn't play its big games at home, going to the Spectrum to play anyone above the Red Line who wanted to come visit.
But things change, whether we like it or not, and even Chaney wasn't about to shed too many tears
when his school shelled out $70 million or so to build the Liacouras Center, which opened 15 years ago (seems like about five to me). As it seems to happen sometimes in Our Game (see Butler and Gonzaga), Chaney and Temple were a victim of their own success.
The Liacouras Center has all the amenities of a modern arena: more than 10,000 seats, some luxury boxes, near-perfect lighting. But it wasn't full for Saturday afternoon's Atlantic-10 tilt with defending conference champ St. Bonaventure (whose home arena ironically looks plenty like McGonigle Hall).
(There was one window to the past Saturday on Broad Street: $1 hot dog day. So much for the edict of eating healthy
this weekend. Oh, well.)
Chaney went to five regional finals from 1988 to 2001. He was a little bit intense for some people's liking
, but that is a remarkable record. If he had won one or two of those games, maybe the Mid-majority story might be different.
If things stay the same (and who knows these days?), Temple - lured by football - will jump the Red Line to the Big East (or what's left of it) next season, and the fact that they were once a true mid-major may be lost to history.
Anyway, Fran Dunphy has been to five straight NCAA Tournaments since taking over for Chaney (after a tough first season), and it looks like six this year, with a win
over Syracuse and a 12-4 record coming into Saturday's game.
One of the great things about Our Game, especially when it comes to March, is that it really doesn't matter who the better team is, it only matters who is better for 40 minutes. Temple may have a better squad than rebuilding St. Bonaventure this season, but on Saturday, the Bonnies were better, pretty much from the opening tip.
Toronto native Matthew Wright - averaging less than eight points per game - was on fire from the opening tip, and the Owls had little energy with most of its student
body still on break. The Bonnies led 10-2 before Temple even woke up, and although the Owls - led by one of the best players in any league in Khalif Wyatt - would temporarily grab the lead back 34-29 on a Scootie Randall #superhoop, the Bonnies closed the first half on an 11-2 run with a pair of superhoops by point guard Eric Mosley and another by Chris Johnson, the second consecutive Saturday I'd watched a Nova Scotian shoot the ball well (Johnson appears to be no relation to Bucknell's Bryson Johnson, however).
It was humorous to watch Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt as the second half progressed. You'd think an improbable run to the NCAA Tournament would give you time to breathe, and it did get him a contract extension through the 2018-19 season. You wouldn't know it looking at him, though. At 0-3 in an Atlantic-10 that has very few easy wins anymore, he knew this was a chance to grab some much-needed momentum.
Temple had little answer for Senegalese center Youssou Ndoye early in the second half and an omgdunx by Demetrius Conger put the Bonnies up 53-41 on a day that every bounce, every loose ball seemed to be going their way. Wright even hit a three-pointer from a tough angle with the shot clock going down. And was fouled to boot.
But Wyatt was still around, and when his superhoop bounced around the rim and few times before defying logic and bouncing in, it was 63-59 with six minutes left, and Schmidt put his hands on his head, sensing disaster.
Two Wyatt free throws cut it to 69-68, but Conger answered with a clutch #superhoop, and when Wyatt was subsequently called for a charge, it was his fifth foul, he was done. Wyatt - who was in foul trouble for much of the first half - finished with 30 points in just 30 minutes, meaning he has scored 63 points in the two Temple games I attended this season, going 23-for-23 from the free throw line in those games.
Temple still battled, but eventually ran out of time, and the Bonnies had a big upset. You could tell how needed the victory was by the reaction of Schmidt and the coaching staff, running to the locker room with fists pumping. They're still just 8-9 and 1-3 in the Atlantic-10, but in a league with Butler and VCU, and with only 12 of the 16 teams going to the conference tournament in Brooklyn, that's a big, big win.
Meanwhile, the Owls did their duty and stayed for the alma mater and shook hands with the fans for a few minutes before departing. Wyatt was particularly distraught, as you'd imagine. It was a lesson, though, that just because you've beaten Syracuse and almost done the same with Kansas, doesn't mean teams are going to roll over for you.
On the way back out to Broad Street, which actually looked fairly scenic in the January sun, I wondered if things would have been so easy for St. Bonaventure at an overly loud McGonigle Hall. Maybe the Bonnies wouldn't be able to shoot 11-of-18 on superhoops and Temple would have emerged victorious.
It was probably one of those situations, though, where I'd like to think it would have made a difference, but it most likely wouldn't.
The past is gone, and it ain't coming back.