Guy Rodgers. Wali Jones. Ed Pinckney. Lionel Simmons. The list goes on. Regardless of where their respective career paths take them, Ramon Galloway and Khalif Wyatt will someday find themselves among the pantheon of Philadelphia Big 5 Hall of Famers. The two superstars squared off with one another Thursday night at the Liacouras Center with not only the Big 5 Title on the line, but serious implications to this year’s NCAA Tournament as well.
Galloway’s La Salle Explorers (18-7 overall, 8-4 Atlantic-10) came into the night having won four in a row, while Khalif Wyatt‘s Temple Owls (18-8, 7-5 A-10) were coming off five straight games decided by one point. The Owls were 3-2 in those contests, including a crippling loss to the lowly Duquesne Dukes last week that had quite possibly put Temple on the outside looking in with regard to the NCAA Tournament, at least at the time.
Outside the city of Philadelphia, people might not understand the importance or storied history of Big 5 basketball, but the players involved and fans alike certainly do, as evidenced by the sell-out crowd of over 10,000 at the Liacouras Center Thursday night.
“This was probably the most excited I’ve been to play,” Temple Senior Khalif Wyatt said. “Everybody was talking about it all week. I was excited. I was going fast out there.”
Ramon Galloway is one of a handful of Philly natives on the La Salle squad, along with Tyreek Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright. Galloway and Duren said they didn’t go to many Big 5 games as a kid, however, and didn’t really learn about what the storied city series meant until they were schooled on the subject by La Salle head coach John Giannini.
“The only team I can recall is St. Joe’s when Jameer [Nelson] was there and then Villanova when Kyle Lowry was there,” Duren said. “Now that I’m in the Big 5, Coach G has talked to me about the history of it and how big it is for the program and how big it can be for me. He basically said that if you win the Big 5, you lock your name in the history books. That’s a big accomplishment.”
The La Salle Explorers hadn’t earned at least a share of the Big 5 Title in over a decade, and had last won it outright over twenty years ago in 1990, during the program’s glory days when Lionel “L-Train” Simmons roamed the campus. Villanova and Temple had dominated the city series for much of the past ten years.
The prize was up for grabs for the Explorers on Thursday night, as they faced the task of defeating the Temple Owls, a more experienced team in terms of games played in the spotlight, as well as a team they hadn’t beaten the last seven times they played. It was perhaps that inexperience that overcame La Salle as Temple dominated the game from the outset, en-route to a 82-74 victory and share of the Big 5 Title with the Explorers.
Temple held a commanding 42-27 rebounding advantage and played stellar defense, holding La Salle to 9-for-28 shooting in the first half. The Explorers made 5 of 17 three-pointers after averaging 12 during the last four games.
The Owls broke the game open with an 18-0 run that gave them a 39-24 lead with 50 seconds left before intermission. After trailing by as many as 22 points, the Explorers pulled within nine twice in the second half.
Temple responded with a 9-3 run to give themselves a 71-56 cushion with 6 minutes, 49 seconds left, and followed that up with an 11-2 run shortly thereafter to lead 82-64 with 1:44 remaining. Ramon Galloway made one last three-pointer at the buzzer to make the final score 82-74.
“Anyone who saw the way they played has to be impressed,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We weren’t good. When one good team plays at a high level and another team has a bad game, that’s the result that you saw there today.”
Temple Senior Rahlir Jefferson dominated the Explorers all night, making 9 of 14 shots and finishing with career highs of 23 points and 18 rebounds. He also had a game-high five assists and a blocked shot.
“I thought Rahlir was just spectacular,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “Not only on his jump-shooting. But on a couple of tip-ins, that was so critical for us, maintaining a decent cushion because they were coming after us.”
Ramon Galloway struggled from start to finish, although still ended up with a double-double, recording 18 points and 10 rebounds, albeit on just 4 for 15 shooting. Tyreek Duren picked up two early fouls and had to sit for much of the first half, denying the Explorers from establishing any type of rhythm. Duren finished with 16 points and 3 assists, while Tyrone Garland added 14 points off the bench.
Despite not earning the Big 5 Title outright, La Salle did win a share of it with Temple, the first time they’ve accomplished that since 1998. The Explorers are also still in very good shape regarding the NCAA Tournament, while the Owls still might have some work to do. Temple will get the opportunity to improve their resume starting on Sunday, February 24th, when they travel to North Carolina to take on a very good Charlotte 49ers (18-7 overall, 6-5 Atlantic-10) team.
For La Salle, the remainder of their schedule isn’t quite as daunting as Temple’s, so barring a collapse, the Explorers should earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Their next game is on the road against Rhode Island (8-17, 3-9 A-10) on Sunday, February 24th at 2:00 PM.
Although this year’s Big 5 Title game did not quite live up to expectations, each team earned their place in Philadelphia basketball history, something that cannot be taken away from them. Whether or not they can add to that history remains to be seen.Tags: Big Five, Khalif Wyatt, La Salle, loss, NCAA, Ramon Galloway, Temple, title, Tyreek Duren, win