Temple holds off weakened La Salle

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Temple's win over La Salle gave the Owls their first 4-0 record in the Big 5 since 1988. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

With eight men in uniform, injury-depleted La Salle went up against 20th-ranked Temple yesterday hoping to salvage something out of a hard-luck season. The Owls, meanwhile, just wanted to get a win and stay on course for an Atlantic Ten championship.

Temple finally shook off La Salle and left Tom Gola Arena with a 65-53 victory.

With its fifth straight win, Temple wrapped up the Big Five title, finishing with a 4-0 mark in the City Series for the first time since 1987-88.

"It's a big deal for me and for Temple basketball," said Owls coach Fran Dunphy, a former La Salle player who graduated in 1970.

The Owls are 24-5 overall and 12-2 in the A-10, and owners of a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

Temple guard Juan Fernandez, who started for the first time in six games, came alive with 23 points and spearheaded an early second-half rally that put the Owls in control of the contest. The 6-foot-4 sophomore, who played in all but one game, had his playing time cut back after he suffered a head injury at Fordham on Jan. 23.

The Explorers, who led by 33-32 at halftime, watched Fernandez hit four three-point baskets in the first five minutes of the second half.

Temple led by 48-33 with 15 minutes, 4 seconds to go.

"The key was that when we started the second half, we didn't have to let them back in it," said Fernandez, who tied a career high with seven treys. "We were trying to get the ball inside, but I knew we had to make some shots."

Temple forward Lavoy Allen had a career-high 21 rebounds to go with 17 points, becoming the first Owl to get that many rebounds since Joe Newman snatched 24 against Drexel in February 1973.

La Salle received 21 points from guard Rodney Green, 17 from forward Jerrell Williams, and 10 from center Aaric Murray.

Temple entered the game in a three-way tie for first place with Richmond and Xavier. Yesterday, those teams met at Xavier and the hosts took a 78-76 decision in double overtime.

La Salle, which dropped its eighth consecutive game, is 11-17 and 3-11.

The injury-depleted Explorers continue to go to battle without nearly 3,000 points in the lineup: Guards Ruben Guillandeaux (foot) and Kimmani Barrett (foot), and 6-7 forward Yves Mekongo (finger) sat on the bench in street clothes.

No team in the country has more career points (2,839) on the sideline. And it's no wonder that La Salle goes into its last couple of games trying to avoid being left out of the conference tournament, for which only the top 12 squads in the 14-team league receive berths.

The shorthanded Explorers used a zone defense against the Owls and got off to a decent start.

After falling behind by 14-6, La Salle knotted the score at 19 with 8:43 remaining in the first half. Though the Explorers built a 29-25 edge, the teams mostly exchanged baskets as intermission neared. La Salle happened to be the team with the ball last, and the Explorers used a Williams layup at the buzzer to take a lead at the break.

Notes. Temple has regular-season games remaining at St. Louis on Wednesday and at home against George Washington on Saturday. Massachusetts will visit La Salle on Wednesday before the Explorers wrap it up at St. Joseph's on Saturday. . . . The A-10 tournament begins March 9.


Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum

at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.