Steve Donahue (above) and Penn won their first game of 2020, toppling Big 5 foe Temple on Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA – After Fran Dunphy was honored before the game to a resounding standing ovation Saturday at the Palestra, one of his former teams was able to respond to seeing their program’s former coach.
Penn busted to a 14-0 lead as the applause for Dunph still echoed through the vaunted building where he once roamed the sideline for the Quakers and Temple simply never recovered in front of its coach last year.
The Quakers survived shaky foul shooting down the stretch and held on to knock off Temple for the second-straight year with a 66-59 Big 5 win.
The cathartic victory was Penn’s first win of the new year.
“It was an important game for us in so many ways,” Quakers coach Steve Donahue said, shaking off consecutive losses to Princeton and then Saint Joseph’s to start 2020. “A three-game losing streak felt like months.
“We just hadn’t played a lot of games.”
Indeed, Penn has played just 15 games (8-7) with four of the games against Big 5 rivals.
“It was huge,” Penn senior center A.J. Brodeur said after collecting 19 points and 14 rebounds. “This game was about three weeks in the making. When we first started the little losing streak today was the destination we were looking for in practice”
The Quakers, the defending Big 5 champs, finished their City Series at 2-2.
“It is such a special environment when the Palestra gets packed” added Brodeur after 37 minutes of tireless effort. “Being a part of that the last four years has been special.”
Donahue was especially pleased the Penn seniors, including starters Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman, went out with an 8-8 record in Big 5 play.
“I wanted them to go out .500,” Donahue said. “I don’t think that has been done in a little while here.”
Meanwhile, Temple (10-9, 2-1 Big 5) couldn’t shake free from under its numbing start and now has begun the new decade with six losses in seven January games, including its third consecutive defeat.
“You have to put the ball in the basket,” first-year Temple coach Aaron McKie said calmly after the Owls shot a frigid 23-for-75 (30.7 percent).
Temple had only five assists.
“In order to get assists,” McKie said, “you have to make shots.”
In this City Series where the last eight games were decided by single digits, it appeared the Owls would not finish with double digit points as Temple was scoreless at the 11:22 mark of the first half and trailed Penn 11-0.
Then, Temple came out of the time out and answered the scoring drought with a puzzling shot clock violation. Penn responded with a Goodman 3-pointer for a 14-0 spread.
Finally, senior guard Quinton Rose scored on a driving layup at 10:28 to get the Owls on the board.
“It didn’t really feel good, it was like there was a lid on the basket,” Rose said.
Temple trailed 18-4 with 7:47 left in the first half while making just 2-of-18 shots. The Owls, however, were playing without leading 3-point shooter, forward Dre Perry, who is sideline with a toe injury.
“Even though we didn’t score the ball, I thought our defense was solid,” McKie said, searching for positive like Dunphy – the man he replaced on the Temple bench – would have done.
Meanwhile, sitting right behind Donahue in the first row of the Palestra was his Ursinus College coach Skip Werley, who was celebrating his 80th birthday and no doubt pleased watching his former player use a man defense to post a 24-8 lead over Temple with 3:58 left in the first half.
After snapping an 11-game losing streak to Temple when the Quakers won at the Liacouras Center last season (77-70), Penn stood a another solid 20 minutes from toping the Owls again with a 25-16 halftime lead.
Temple made a charge, though, in the final minutes.
“It just took us too long to get going,” Rose said. “Defensively, it got frustrating, but it’s part of the game you have to figure it.”
Before last season, the Quakers’ previous win in the series was in 2007 – the first year Dunphy moved to North Broad Street from Penn when the Quakers trimmed Temple 76-74 at the Palestra.
Really, there was no better way to spend a rainy mid-winter weekend afternoon than at the Palestra.
Throw in honoring Dunphy before the game and you hit the exacta.
Prior to tipoff, Penn honored Dunphy, who is the Quakers’ all-time win leader as coach with 310 from 1990-2006. Dunphy led Penn to 10 Ivy League titles and nine NCAA tournament.
“When I was at center court and watching the Palestra erupt, it gave me chills,” Donahue said about standing alongside Dunphy, who he assisted at Penn.
The honor was timely, too since it was the beginning of Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Week, a nationwide event that raises funds and awareness about the fight against cancer as all the coaches from both teams wore sneakers, since Dunphy has been a true champion for the Philadelphia Chapter of Coaches vs. Cancer.
Before entering the postgame press conference, McKie spoke with Dunphy.
“We talk or text after every game,” McKie said, “he’s always positive.”
Along with Dunphy, Penn honored former players in the 1990s and 2000s during a first half time out. The old guys played in an Alumni Game before the matinee matchup and its safe to say they shot better then Temple in the first half as the Owls connected on just 6-of-32 field goals to fall behind by nine points at the break.
In the second half, the Quakers’ lead stayed at nine points when freshman Jordan Dingle drained a trey and then Goodman added a fastbreak layup to pad the spread to 37-26.
A 3-pointer by Betley kept the Penn lead at 11 points with 12 minutes to play.
Temple edged back with its extended man defense and trailed 44-38 with just over eight minutes to play. The Owls caused a shot clock violation and went down the other end and drew a foul, but missed both free throws and the Penn lead went back to nine points when Dingle banged a 3-pointer.
Dingle, the nephew of former Temple standout Daniel Dingle (2012-17), drained another three and Penn held a 50-38 lead with 6:54 to play.
Vaulting to a two touchdown lead proved to be the difference as Penn lead by 13 at 56-43 with 3:03 to play against Temple.
The Owls made an expectant end-game effort, cutting Penn’s lead to 59-53 with a minute to play and then forcing a turnover, but a missed layup allowed Penn to grab the rebound.
“We missed a lot of layups, quite honestly,” McKie said.
Temple trailed 60-55 with 39.4 to play when Betley went to the foul line and starting making free throws for Penn by sinking a pair for a seven-point spread.
After an Owls’ transition dunk, Betley went back to the line and buried another pair for a 64-57 lead.
“We wanted this game so bad and I think every kid want to make the free throws,” Donahue said about the poor shooting at the stripe down the stretch.
Donahue believes McKie will turn Temple around this season.
“I’m friends with Aaron and I admire everything he has accomplished,” Donahue said. “He was a self-made player and he’s really dedicated to his craft.”
“I’m learning a lot about myself,” McKie said. “I’m trying to figure out best ways to put them in the best positions.”
The Temple players are learning, too, understanding there isn’t an easy fix, even if your old coach is there watching.
“We’ve just got to stay together and keep working,” Rose said.