Temple hangs on to beat Minutemen, 83-82

AMHERST — The number 21 figured prominently in the storied UMass-Temple men’s basketball rivalry, but in Saturday’s potential final meeting of the two longtime Atlantic 10 Conference rivals, it was the Owls who hit blackjack.

Temple won every one of the first 21 all-time meetings against the Minutemen before UMass finally broke through with its first victory 21 years ago Saturday, on Feb. 16, 1992. The Minutemen had then beaten Temple 21 times head-to-head compared to the Owls’ 22, and looked for a last-second winning shot Saturday that could have brought them to dead-even over the last 44 games of the series.

UMass never got off that shot, however, breaking down on its last possession in the final 17.6 seconds as Temple got out of the Mullins Center for perhaps the last time with an 83-82 victory before 7,438.

The Owls (17-8, 6-5 A-10), 30-year members of the Atlantic 10 but set to head to the Big East Conference next season, took the lead for good, 68-66, on Khalif Wyatt’s fourth 3-pointer of the second half with 9:05 remaining. Temple then pushed its lead to 76-69 with just under five minutes left before two free throws and a trey by UMass’ Chaz Williams made it 76-74. After a pair of Temple baskets, the Minutemen got five straight points from Terrell Vinson for an 80-79 game. Vinson missed the front end of two free throws that could have created a tie.

Scootie Randall knocked in a 3-pointer from the deep right corner to put the Owls up 83-79, but Freddie Riley answered with his own trey with 1:08 on the clock, making it 83-82 going into a UMass timeout. Williams then stole the ball and got it to Riley, who missed a go-ahead 3-pointer, but Temple’s Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson missed at the other end and UMass took over for the final possession.

After a timeout with 17.6 seconds to go — then a second timeout, UMass’ last, when Vinson was unable to inbound the ball — Williams lost his dribble on the right wing, but Riley picked up the loose ball, circled in to the foul line and attempted a backdoor pass to Williams driving right of the lane. Hollis-Jefferson deflected the ball away, leading to a pileup atop the ball between Williams, Vinson and Temple’s Wyatt as time expired.

“I was thinking about shooting and I heard some teammates calling my name,” said Riley of the decisive sequence. “I just tried to make the right play; it ended up not being a good play, though.”

No sweat for the Owls, who wrapped up their fifth consecutive one-point game with their third win in that stretch.

“I guess that’s probably what’s expected out of the last UMass-Temple conference game,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “A thriller that competes with some of the ones we’ve had over the years. A one-point game, we’ve got the ball, kind of a mad scramble and we didn’t really have a chance to get a shot off there.

“I don’t know how that’s possible that they’ve played five straight one-point games. You just hope you’re fortunate enough to come out on the right side of enough of those one-pointers.”

Riley hit five 3-pointers and led the Minutemen (16-8, 6-5 A-10) with 17 points. Williams (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Cady Lalanne (14 points, 12 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles, but all of Lalanne’s points came before halftime. Maxie Esho added 11 points and Vinson and Sampson Carter each finished with nine.

Wyatt scored 17 of his game-high 24 points, including five 3-pointers, in the second half, to pace five Temple players in double figures. Anthony Lee scored 14 points, Randall had 11 and Hollis-Jefferson (11 rebounds, eight assists) and Jake O’Brien each ended with 10.

Smarting after Thursday night losses — the Minutemen coming off a second-half blitz by Virginia Commonwealth that turned into an 18-point road loss, Temple dropping one at home to A-10 bottom-dweller Duquesne — both teams played energized ball in a fast-moving first half. Temple went out early 13-5 behind 3-pointers from Will Cummings and two by Randall, but the Minutemen answered with nine straight points. The first half featured nine ties in all, the last at 43-43, but Williams completed a 3-point play and floated a lob to Esho for a dunk at the buzzer for a 48-43 UMass lead at halftime.

Riley then bumped the lead to eight with an early 3-pointer, but Wyatt shot the Owls back into it with a 6-of-7 stretch from the field, including 5-of-6 from three, part of a 31-16 run that turned the eight-point deficit into a 76-69 Temple lead with 4:58 to go.

“We’re too deep in the season to even think about folding or not sticking together,” said Williams. “As long as we keep playing together live we have been, we should be fine. There’s just little kinks we have to work out.”

“I think the guys are hurting a little bit, so I’m going to have to spend some time building them back up and getting them refocused,” said Kellogg.

Regarding the rivalry with Temple, in which he went 8-3 as a UMass player and 2-4 as head coach, Kellogg gained a different perspective after spending over a decade away from Amherst as an assistant coach.

“You kind of lose touch with the rivalry, but coming back and seeing how excited the fans get, who have been here from the ’90s, they really appreciate the rivalry. As times change, new rivalries are starting to unfold. We’re gonna have to move on and try to find somebody else to have one-point games with every 20 years.”

The Minutemen travel to
Olean, N.Y., to face St. Bonaventure (11-13, 4-7 A-10), coming off two straight overtime losses of its own, Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Reilly Center.

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