Who: Temple (14-6, 3-3 Atlantic 10) at Saint Joseph’s (12-7, 3-3)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Hagan Arena
TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/610-AM (Hawks), 1210-AM (Owls)
As good friends ought to do, Phil Martelli and Fran Dunphy have had to call each other this season for encouragement.
It has been that kind of year for the head men of Saint Joseph’s and Temple, respectively, whose teams will meet at Hagan Arena at 6 p.m. Saturday in a pivotal game for both Big 5 rivals.
It hasn’t been disastrous, by any means, for either, but neither the Hawks nor the Owls have been able to get on a consistent winning roll. There have been moments, for sure, particularly for Temple.
The Owls (14-6, 3-3 Atlantic 10) knocked off then-No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden … but then lost for the first time ever to St. Bonaventure at home. That defeat followed an escape job at GW, where Temple somehow managed to pull off a 55-53 victory.
St. Joe’s (12-7, 3-3), the Atlantic 10 preseason favorite, got off to a good start that included a victory over then-No. 20 Notre Dame in Brooklyn. But suspensions, injuries and just some bad play have contributed to an up-and-down season, with home losses to Fairfield and those same Bonnies among the lowlights.
“I called Dunph (after the Owls’ loss to St. Bonaventure) just to say nobody’s better in the country than you,” Martelli told Philahoops after eking out a 66-62 win at Fordham on Wednesday night. “I think he’s a marvelous, marvelous coach besides being a great friend. He just said, ‘We can’t catch it. Like we can’t catch it.’”
One of them will leave Hagan with a chance to catch it. Unfortunately for the good friends, it will come at the expense of the other.
Martelli rightly said that Saturday’s game is no bigger than any from this point, as the Hawks’ NCAA at-large chances are hanging perilously close to extinction. Temple is on more solid footing, but the Owls also have little room for error if they want to reach the Big Dance for the sixth straight season under Dunphy.
“It’s a big game Saturday, but it was a big game tonight,” Martelli said Wednesday. “We have 10 big games left in this league and we still have a chance to make our mark.”
Martelli will be looking for a similar effort from his Hawks as last season at Hagan, when St. Joe’s snapped No. 22 Temple’s 11-game winning streak overall and 10 consecutive victories against the Hawks with an 82-72 victory.
“My recollection without looking at the numbers is the ‘compete’ was at a high level,” Martelli said of last year’s win.
The Hawks will need to bring it again against the deep and talented Owls, who are coming off Wednesday’s win over Richmond. The worst news for St. Joe’s is the re-emergence of Owls swingman Scootie Randall, who broke out of his elongated slump with a 21-point outing against the Spiders.
Randall, who also netted 13 points in Saturday’s loss at Butler, has made 6 of his last 10 3-pointers and 13 of 23 field goals overall, but still is shooting just 28 percent from the arc on the season.
The Owls’ biggest threat, of course, is senior guard Khalif Wyatt. The Norristown native is leading the league in scoring, at 17.8 points per game, and Martelli knows guarding him will be no easy task.
“Players today they play either too fast or too slow, and he plays at different speeds,” Martelli said. “None of them are warp speed. He plays at a pace that he’s comfortable and it’s a pace he dictates. There’s nothing that you do that you dictate to him.”
Hawks guard Langston Galloway, who has been nursing an illness that has been going around the team, will get the assignment of trying to stop Wyatt.
Galloway said the toughest thing about guarding Wyatt is his ability to get to the free-throw line, where it’s almost a guaranteed two points. Wyatt is shooting 82.1 percent from the charity stripe.
“He’s a good player and you just have to be able to stop him,” Galloway told Philahoops.
Said Martelli, “We need a 100 percent Langston to guard Khalif Wyatt, but we’re all going to have to be involved.”
For his part, Wyatt said he won’t try anything tricky. How can you when you know your opponent so well?
“It’s a Philly game,” Wyatt said. “We know all their guys, they know all of us. We know all of their sets, they know all of our sets. So it’s just gonna come down to playing the game and sticking together with your teammates.”
-Scouting Temple: Anthony Lee grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds against Richmond on Wednesday. After averaging 5.0 points and 5.2 rebounds in a backup role last season, the 6-9 sophomore is getting 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest this season. Martelli said he’s a candidate for the league’s most improved award. … In addition to Wyatt and Lee, Randall (11.6) also averages in double-figures in scoring. … Temple is the league’s top free-throw shooting team at 73.1 percent and ranks third in steals at 8.2 per game. … On the flip side, the Owls are 12th of 16 A-10 teams in 3-point percentage (32.1 percent). A big reason for that is Wyatt, who is hitting 32.2 percent from downtown. His numbers from the arc have declined the last two seasons: 42.1 percent as a sophomore and 37.9 percent as a junior. … This will be the final regular-season A-10 matchup — for now, at least — as Temple heads to the Big East next season. The teams still will play once a season, keeping alive the Big 5 tradition.
-Scouting St. Joe’s: Saturday’s game will be the 153rd meeting but just 11th at Hawk Hill. Temple leads the overall series 86-66 but the Hawks have won six of 10 meetings at Hawk Hill. … The Hawks had won 12 of 13 against Temple from 2003-08 before the Owls ran off 10 in a row prior to last year’s St. Joe’s win at Hagan. … Ronald Roberts averaged 17.5 points in the two games against Temple last season. Roberts is averaging 11.0 points this season, along with an A-10 leading 8.7 rebounds per game. … Carl “Tay” Jones (15.1 ppg), Galloway (14.2) and C.J. Aiken also reach double-figures in scoring for St. Joe’s. … Aiken leads the A-10 in blocks (3.1 bpg), while Galloway is third in the league in minutes (35.6 mpg).
-Sound off: What team do you think will leave Hagan with a win on Saturday?