AMHERST, Mass. - For all of their success this season, the Temple Owls haven't won a lot of close games - primarily because they haven't played in many close games. Last night they got their chance, and they came through.
The Owls held UMass scoreless for the first 4 minutes and 40 seconds of overtime, and sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson hit a clinching free throw with 19 seconds to go as Temple escaped the Mullins Center with a 73-67 victory.
"We mentioned in the huddle that this is exactly what we needed to prove our mettle," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said after his team posted its 10th straight Atlantic 10 Conference win. "And somehow we found a way."
The Owls improved to 23-6, 13-2 in A-10 play. They also clinched the second seed in the upcoming A-10 Tournament. The Minutemen dropped to 15-13, 7-8 in the A-10.
Temple won thanks to its defense, which limited UMass to 1-for-10 shooting in the extra period. Both teams looked tired, but the injury-riddled Owls were stronger at the finish.
"You're tired, you're tight, and each possession is so critical, you just have to find a way," Dunphy said. "They shot 1-for-10 and we shot 2-for-4. We just got lucky on a couple plays."
Luck wasn't a factor in Lavoy Allen's performance. Temple's senior big man totaled 14 points and 18 rebounds in 44 minutes, his fourth straight double-double.
"I think it's a mental thing," Allen said. "We don't want to make excuses for ourselves. We just keep competing and stay focused the whole game."
The Owls had a chance to win the game in the final seconds of regulation, but with the score tied at 65, Juan Fernandez' driving floater was blocked.
The Minutemen had grabbed a 65-64 lead on senior guard Anthony Gurley's leaning jumper with a minute to go. Fernandez then lost the ball at midcourt, and UMass had a three-on-none fastbreak - but blew that opportunity with an unnecessary pass ahead that floated out-of-bounds. Ramone Moore hit a free throw for the Owls to tie the score.
Free throws made a big difference in the outcome. Temple hit 24 of 30 free throw attempts in the contest, while UMass went 6-for-15 from the line.
With a seven-man rotation, the Owls can't afford for Allen to get in foul trouble. He has managed to avoid it in each of the four games since frontcourt mates Micheal Eric and Scootie Randall went down with injuries.
"Sometimes you've just got to let a person score," Allen said. "Whether it's in the post or it's a dribbler going by someone else and I'm stepping over to help out, I can't really afford a foul. So sometimes I've got to let them score."
The Owls trailed for most of the game against the Minutemen, but hit enough shots to keep it close.
Fernandez scored a team-high 19 points and matched a season-high with four three-pointers. Khalif Wyatt sank a pair of timely threes in the second half.
The problem came on the other end of the floor. Gurley carried the Minutemen with 17 points in the first half, and then his teammates joined the act.
Freshman Aaron Brown was Temple's top scorer in the first half, hitting a pair of three-pointers and two more baskets as most of his teammates struggled to make shots. Brown had reached double figures only one other time this season.