Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
PHILADELPHIA — Neither would budge. Neither would back up. They could have been standing in the middle of a ring on a blood-soaked canvas in Manila, like Ali and Frazier, and never relented.
That’s the way La Salle and Temple went at each other, throwing one haymaking basket, making one thrilling play after the next, Wednesday night at Temple’s Liacouras Center.
Temple's Steve Settle scored 19 points, including a three that sent the game into 2OT. (Photo: Anthony Pompili/CoBL)
One looked like it was dead, then was resurrected. The other was teetering, wobbling and about to fall, when it somehow found its legs.
Finally, after three overtimes, Temple outlasted La Salle, 106-99, in a Big 5 game for the ages behind Hysier Miller’s 20 points, Steve Settle’s 19 and Jordan Riley’s 16.
It took the Owls to win a classic to reach the Big 5 Classic Championship, where they will play St. Joe’s, a surprising 78-65 winner over No. 18 Villanova, on Saturday in the first Big 5 Classic Championship at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was Temple’s first triple-overtime victory since its 83-82 victory at UMass on Feb. 11, 1990.
Temple’s victory wasted the amazing efforts of La Salle’s Jhamir Brickus, who finished with a Big 5 record 41 points, and Khalil Brantley’s 29. The 41-point total broke the previous record of 40 set by La Salle's Steve Black against Temple on Feb. 26, 1983.
Everyone left the Liacouras Center exhausted. The coaches. The players. The fans. The janitors. The security guards were even into it. Anyone who watched that game live walked away shaking their heads wondering what they just saw.
“I’m so proud of our guys, a few things didn’t go our way, a few things at certain times, we talk about a boxing match, we gotta [go] all rounds,” Owls’ first-year coach Adam Fisher said. “So proud of guys who haven’t seen a ton of minutes come in and make huge plays. We talk about it all the time, it’s 14 together. We had some guys do some great things. It’s Big 5 basketball. We’re excited to play for a championship in this town.”
With 1:39 left in regulation and Temple up, 70-62, La Salle capped off an 8-1 rally on a Brickus 3-pointer to put the game into its first overtime.
Temple’s top two scorers, Miller and Riley, fouled out in the first overtime, then Settle sent it into the second overtime with a 3-pointer with two seconds left.
La Salle junior Jhamir Brickus scored a Big 5 record 41 points on Wednesday. (Photo: Anthony Pomili/CoBL)
With 1:09 left in the second overtime, Temple’s Quante Berry sank a pair of free throws to send it into a third extra session tied at 91-91. With less than a minute in the second overtime, Temple’s Taj Thweatt seemed to come from nowhere to block a driving layup by Brantley to keep the game locked at 91-91.
It was an improbable finish for Temple (4-2), which shot 7-of-34 from 3-point range and won after fouling out five players — including four starters.
What was interesting, however, was that La Salle had Brickus and Brantley still on the floor, Temple may have had the fresher legs, using subs late to outscore La Salle 15-8 in the final overtime.
This manifested itself in Temple’s outscoring the Explorers in bench points, 37-11 for the game.
The Owls also did this without Jahlil White, Temple’s second-leading scorer (14 ppg) and leading rebounder (8 rpg), who missed his second-straight game after injuring his hand in the Owls’ Nov. 18 loss to Columbia.
Brickus was so exhausted after the game he had a tough time getting up from the bench. He finally fouled out with 1:46 left in the third overtime and once the Owls built a 101-95 lead, La Salle could not respond. The Explorers were spent.
“It was really an amazing game in so many ways, it was an amazing game and an incredible game by this guy (Brickus),” said La Salle Hall of Fame coach Fran Dunphy, who thought he “probably” had coached a triple overtime game before. “I don’t recollect when and where, and the result. It was just an amazing game.
“We had our chances. We were dead in the water at the end of regulation and somehow found a way to make it work. I thought in the second overtime our chances were good. It was a tough game to be this close, and I’m grateful to my guys and how hard they played and how they worked to put us in a position to win.”
For most of regulation, it was a game in which neither team seemingly wanted to win. What typified the game was Miller’s brilliant move to the basket, eluding a La Salle defender with 7:14 to play, only to blow an open layup by throwing the ball errantly over the rim.
La Salle would go on a quick run, like the 8-0 burst the Explorers had early in the second half, and then deflate. Temple was awful offensively, but good enough when the Owls had to be. When La Salle was sloppy with the ball, which was frequent, the Owls jumped on the chances, outscoring La Salle 19-3 off turnovers in the game.
Temple took a 31-30 lead into halftime. The Owls did it muscling inside, outscoring La Salle 22-10 in the paint in the half, and 52-40 for the game, even though the Explorers outrebounded Temple, 25-21, in the half, but the Owls got the better of a tired La Salle team in the end, outrebounding the Explorers, 65-59, for the game.
While the Owls relied on inside scoring, the Explorers used the three-point shot, nailing six of 14 from beyond the arc, as the focus of their offense. Temple, meanwhile, was as frigid as the temperature on Broad Street, missing its first nine three-pointers, before Matteo Picarelli snapped the freeze with a running trey with 52 seconds left in the half. The Owls went in halftime going 1 for 12 from three-point range.
The Owls were also heavily reliant on junior guards Miller and Riley, who combined for 18 of Temple’s 31 points. La Salle had slightly more balance with Brickus leading the way with 11, while Tunde Vahlberg Fasasi added seven over the first 20 minutes and Anwar Gill chipped in with six.
The halftime score was reflective of how the game went to that point. There were seven lead changes and three ties, with the largest difference being a 23-17 La Salle edge with 7:17 left in the half.
Neither team shot well. La Salle was 11-34 (32.4%), while Temple did not shoot much better, hitting 13-34 from the floor (38.2%).
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.