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Big 5 Classic

December 7, 2003 Columns No Comments

Live from Philadelphia – The Big 5 Classic

by Phil Kasiecki

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – The Big 5 has a storied history in Philadelphia, and third annual Big 5 Classic stayed true to that. With all six Division I teams in the city playing in three games, the snow that hit the city since Friday seemed irrelevant. Inside, there was great basketball, as all three games were well-played contests and all had the usual atmosphere of Big 5 games.

Here is a look at each game played at the Palestra on Saturday.

Temple 57, Drexel 48

David Hawkins hit a three-pointer and converted a three-point play off a steal to lead a run of eleven unanswered points, leading Temple to its first win of the season, a 57-48 decision over Drexel.

Drexel (1-3) got off to a good start, leading for a good portion of the first half and by as many as six. Poor shooting kept the Dragons from ever breaking it open and allowed the Owls (1-3) to come back and eventually take a 26-24 lead at halftime. The trend would continue in the second half, when the Owls led almost throughout, but never broke the game open because they shot just 33% from the field.

Hawkins led the victors with a game-high 26 points, making a living at the foul line as he hit 14 of 15 from the charity stripe. Though he was 5-15 from the field, he came through when the Owls needed him to late in the game.

“He’s hard-nosed, he’s mean, just like me,” head coach John Chaney quipped after the game.

The Owls struggled offensively, which is likely to dog them all season. Most notably, they still have questions at the point, though they have a candidate to run the show in freshman Mario Taybron. Hawkins has handled the ball often and likely will continue to while Taybron’s learning curve is addressed, while Mardy Collins will also handle the ball some. Temple needs their inside play to improve as well, as Keith Butler has talent but has to play up to it more, and Antywane Robinson is only giving them just over 2 points per game.

Drexel got good efforts from a couple of its younger players, as Chaz Crawford showed some good potential (5 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks), especially while Sean Brooks had foul trouble, and Bashir Mason shows some promise at the point. Junior guards Jeremiah King and Phil Goss played solid defense on Collins (5-15 shooting), but both struggled mightily at the offensive end and that made a big difference. King was 2-8, making two three-pointers within the first 6:02, while Goss was 3-13, including 2-11 on three-pointers.

Drexel needs King and Goss, the latter of whom has struggled mightily shooting the ball early, to get untracked, and head coach Bruiser Flint knows it. He said that he wants King, who has the tools to be a solid scorer, to take more shots.

“They’ve got to do better on offense, honestly, we can’t win with those guys playing like that,” said Flint of his starting guards.

A funny moment happened after the game, as Flint walked into the press room before Chaney was finished addressing the media. Chaney saw Flint, and said, “You had a good game plan, man, I don’t understand you.” When Flint later talked about how small his team is, calling it “the munchkin team”, Chaney then got him by saying, “But you’re teaching them skills, man!”

No. 11 St. Joseph’s 67, Pennsylvania 59

When they needed one, Jameer Nelson came up with a big play for St. Joseph’s, just like a senior leader is supposed to. He made three layups in a 10-3 run to put the game away and made several key steals and layups as the Hawks beat Pennsylvania, 67-59.

Nelson had 23 points and 8 steals, 15 of his points coming in the second half. He ended a run of nine straight Quaker points in the first half with a running jumper, then helped get Delonte West (15 points) going later as well.

In the final minute, Charlie Copp (12 points) hit a three-pointer to cut the lead to 62-59, but late Hawk free throws and a missed layup and three-pointer by Penn sealed the game.

St. Joseph’s once again relied on its perimeter unit and the leadership of Nelson. The Hawks don’t have great depth up front behind serviceable post players Dwayne Jones (13 rebounds and 3 blocks) and John Bryant, but they play with who they have very well. The Hawks will use essentially a four-guard lineup frequently, and use their pressure to try to force teams into bad shots and create turnovers. So far, the Hawks have forced nearly 20 turnovers per game and are allowing opponents to shoot just over 39% from the field.

“Our defense is predicated on ball pressure – not stealing the ball, but ball pressure,” said head coach Phil Martelli.

The Quakers will be relying on veterans like Schiffner and Begley, who were integral parts of the last two Ivy League championship teams, and Charlie Copp, another senior. Schiffner had 23 points, including making 7 of 11 three-pointers, and is the clear go-to guy. Begley looks like he’ll be the do-everything player, while Copp has run the show capably and has had some good shooting game.

Schiffner made several big shots to keep the Quakers in the game. At one point, he made two to aid in a 9-0 run that cut a 27-16 lead down to 2 in the first half, and kept them in it in the second half with his shooting.

“The line is no longer a factor for him, in terms of how deep he can shoot it,” said Martelli of Schiffner.

“They’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament because of their oldest guys,” he later added about Pennsylvania.

Hearing about that, Dunphy later just quipped, “What a shock that is, that bashful guy Phil.”

Villanova 74, La Salle 61

Randy Foye scored all 19 of his points in the second half, including 11 straight of his team’s points early, as Villanova overcame a halftime deficit and pulled away in the closing minutes in a 74-61 win over La Salle.

The game was back and forth for some of the first half, before Gary Neal (game-high 32 points) scored 10 of 14 unanswered La Salle points, giving the Explorers (1-5) a 31-26 lead with 1:31 left in the half.

The second half saw six lead changes, several near the midway point of the second half, with the last one coming on a field goal by Andreas Bloch (12 points, 9 rebounds) with 10:38 left to give the Wildcats (4-2) a 49-48 lead. The Wildcats would later lead by as many as 15 in the final minute, gradually pulling away as La Salle could not get any offense aside from Neal or Steven Smith (17 points, 9 rebounds), who had just 6 points in the second half.

The Explorers have looked like one of the unpleasant surprises in college basketball in the early going, as they now stand 1-5. They are starting to look like exactly what they were thought to be in one respect – a young team. While the talent is there with Neal, Smith and point guard Jermaine Thomas, this is still a team that regularly starts three, even four sophomores and a junior (Mike Cleaves), and none of the four seniors on the team played Saturday.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright can see this team’s potential, especially with a shooter like Neal who can get hot.

“Gary Neal was unbelievable,” said Wright. “I really don’t think we were that bad. A couple of shots he hit were outside our coverage range – we just don’t cover that far out.”

Head coach Billy Hahn saw one of the problems Saturday – lack of scoring balance, as Neal and Smith accounted for 49 of the team’s 61 points. Thomas, who entered the game averaging nearly 11 points per game, was held scoreless on 0-8 shooting.

“I thought our effort was good enough to compete and win the game,” said Hahn. “But you got to put the ball in the basket, and tonight we only had two guys that were putting the ball in the basket in Steve Smith and Gary Neal.

“We’ve got to find a real balance.”

The Wildcats are still hurting from the suspensions being served from the telephone access code incident, as well as injuries to senior guard Derrick Snowden and sophomore center Jason Fraser. While Snowden has been medically cleared to play, he must serve two more games of his suspension. Fraser has not played this season due to a stress fracture in his left heel, and more will be known about his return when he is re-evaluated this week.

But in the meantime, they are developing some depth, which will help them in the long run. Players like Foye and classmates Curtis Sumpter and Allan Ray, who is leading the team in scoring and shooting lights out, have had to take on larger roles and grow up more quickly, though they were never lacking the talent for it. Freshmen Will Sheridan and Mike Nardi are also getting thrown into the fire quickly and contributing. If they continue to get efforts like Saturday’s from Andreas Bloch, the Wildcats could really be in great shape once Fraser and Snowden return.

“That’s a good win for us,” said Wright after the game. “I think that’s the best team we’ve played thus far.

“It was a good, gutsy game for our guys.”

The Wildcats opened up the season by blowing out Temple, but they went 1-2 in the Maui Invitational while short-handed. They could ultimately be a dark horse in the Big East once all the players are back. But Wright has the challenge of getting the chemistry going with everyone in uniform. He feels confident that this team will come together and be a force.

“Every win is satisfying,” said Wright. “I’m not being picky here. This team has to get through a lot, and they have, and I like the way they’re playing. We just have to keep getting better every game, and I feel like we have. That’s what I like about this group.”


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