TUSCON, Ariz. -- The streak is over!
Juan Fernandez hit a leaner with under a second to go in the game to lift the Owls to their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2001. Temple beat Penn State then and they beat them again today, this time by a score of 66-64.
The Owls took a 64-61 lead with 28 seconds to go on a pair of Fernandez free throws. Talor Battle, Penn State's all-time leading scorer, knotted the game with 14.2 seconds remaining on a long three-pointer from the wing.
Fernandez took the ball out of a timeout and drove just within the three-point line, picking up his dribble with Penn State's Tim Frazier draped all over him. He made a few pivot moves and leaned into the jumper that won the game for the Owls and gave head coach Fran Dunphy his second career NCAA Tournament victory.
Dunphy, ever the player's coach, said in the post game presser that it was Khalif Wyatt's idea to give the ball to Juan to close the game.
"When we called time-out we were discussing what to run, and Khalif Wyatt, who I listen to all the time, he's got sage advice for me often, said, 'I think we need to just put it in Juan's hands,'" Dunphy said. "'Then if he is not ready to do it, then give it -- Juan will give it to Ramone and that's how we'll win the game.'"
Wyatt said the decision to give Fernandez the ball just made sense.
"Juan's our leader," said Wyatt, who finished the game with 10 points off the bench. "The ball's in his hands most of the game so we trust Juan to make smart decisions down the stretch."
"And when the time came we were in the huddle I just told coach that I think our best bet was to put the ball in Juan's hands and let him make a play. And I mean, Juan made a great play and rewarded us with a win."
Fernandez scored a season-high 23 points with 17 of them coming in the game's opening twenty minutes. The junior guard also had three assists and three rebounds.
Talor Battle led the Nittany Lions with 23 points but had a tough outing shooting the ball, going 8 of 21 from the field. He was 5 of 11 from beyond the arc and it seemed like all of his three-pointers came at critical junctures of the game for Penn State.
Dunphy called Battle's game-tying shot a 41-footer but the senior said distance doesn't matter to him.
"I just wanted to try to get to wherever I could shoot the ball clearly," said Battle. "One guy ran, Tim (Frazier) threw it to me and I just shot it. Right when I shot it it felt so good. I saw Reggie Miller and them going nuts, so I figured I was pretty far when I shot."
As big as Battle and Fernandez were for their respective teams, Ramone Moore may have been the most integral part of Temple's victory. The Philadelphia native scored 23 points 17 of them coming in the second half, interestingly enough.
11 of Moore's 17 second half points came in the game's final 7:20, including a run of nine straight that kept the Owls clinging to a precarious lead.
"Penn State were making a lot of baskets, and I kind of got on a roll," said Moore. "And I think my teammates noticed that. During the time-out coach said, Let's get the ball in Ramone's hand and running plays for me."
"And I think I capitalized, which is something I need to do for this team."
Temple started the game slowly as Penn State jumped out to a 20-11 lead with the game just eight minutes old. The Owls were able to chip into the Nits lead after senior forward Jeff Brooks was forced to take a seat on the bench after picking up his second foul with 10 minutes remaining.
Temple closed the half on a 23-13 run to take a two point lead into intermission.
Brooks lasted less than a minute in the second half as he dislocated his right shoulder for the second time this season. Junior guard Cameron Woodyard stepped in admirably for the senior forward but the injury changed the complexion of Penn State's offense.
"Jeff Brooks is a big part of what we do offensively we try to give him the ball around the basket," said Penn State head coach Ed DeChellis. "We really didn't get to the free-throw line tonight at all. And he usually is the guy we try to get the ball to around the basket to get fouled and get to the free-throw line and also rebound the basketball. So, you know, that was a little -- got us a little sideways for awhile.
"But that's not an excuse. I think our other kids came in and when Cam came off the bench, I had a gut feeling we needed to go with somebody else and went with him and he made a basket or two. We had a great fight. We had great energy. This is March, stuff happens. Good for Temple. Bad for us."
Lost in all the hubbub over Fernandez's game winner was the fact that senior Lavoy Allen had a very quiet night for the Owls. He had just three points despite the fact that he played the entire game. Allen did atone for his lack of offense with a game-high 11 rebounds and four blocks.
To outsiders, the fact that Allen was unable to impose his will offensively with Brooks out of the game may be damaging to Temple's long term NCAA plans.
From the way Dunphy spoke after the game it does not sound like he agrees with that sentiment.
"He didn't shoot the jumper well in the first half which meant he became a little reluctant to do that. He gets an offensive foul call in the second half, so he gets a little more reluctant," said Dunphy. "But I think there's nobody out there that trusts his teammates more than that. He doesn't need do all that."
"He is a deferring kind of guy. But seemed to me he was blocking and changing a lot of shots. He gets 11 rebounds and he is such a significant part of our team and I think a significant part of the game if you don't look closely at the box score."
Scootie Randall saw his first action since suffering a hairline fracture in his right foot against Richmond on Feb. 17. Randall certainly looked rusty despite the fact that he has been campaigning to rejoin the team for a few weeks now.
The junior was 0 for 1 from the floor in six minutes of action. Dunphy said that he was "thrilled" to get Randall some playing time but that he will be looking for him to get more comfortable at game speed.
The Owls will have their hands full on Saturday as they will take on the number two seed Aztecs of San Diego State, who handled Northern Colorado 68-50 Thursday afternoon.