Temple Holds on to Fly Past the Hawks

As the Liacouras Center began filling up Thursday night, there was a sense that this was more than just a regular season Atlantic 10 game.

It was conference-scoring leaders Dionte Christmas versus Ahmad Nivins.

It was Temple versus St. Joseph's.

It was Big 5 basketball at its finest.

As the final seconds ticked away, Dionte Christmas, Semaj Inge and Sergio Olmos, the last players to play under legendary coach John Chaney, jostled one last win on Senior Night, upending the Hawks 68-59.

Who’s on the bubble now, Joe Lunardi?

Christmas led the way for the Owls with 23 points, Inge had a career-high four steals and Olmos played almost lights-out defense in the paint against Nivins, while adding 14 points on the offensive end. With the win, the Owls jumped into third place in the conference, securing a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament.

It was the fourth straight win for Temple (18-11, 10-5 A-10) over City-Avenue rival St. Joe's (15-14, 8-7), and unless these two play again in the A-10 tourney in Atlantic City, then Philadelphia will say goodbye to one of its most electrifying rivalries in Christmas and Nivins.

The Hawks got to flapping early, taking a short-lived 19-14 advantage over the Owls. Led by freshman Juan Fernandez’s Magic Johnson-like five assists, the Owls went on a 20-4 tear, igniting the team's fans as the Liacouras Center shook with a playoff-like atmosphere.

The Argentinean entered the game with the Owls trailing midway through the first half, and threaded a no-look bounce pass through three defenders to a cutting Inge, who converted the layup.

At that moment, the St. Joe's Hawk mascot, who never stops flapping his wings, paused momentarily, and it became evident that St. Joe's was in trouble.

But Nivins, who dropped 17 points of his own, quickly pulled the curtain down on the show, rallying the Hawks in a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 34-32.

With the Temple student section chanting “Merry Christmas,” Christmas and sophomore Craig Williams drilled back-to-back threes on ensuing Owl possessions, as Temple scored 13 straight to secure the game and the school’s first regular-season sweep of their inner-city foes since 2002.

As the final seconds slipped away, putting the score aside, there was a realization that this was all ending too soon.

The lingering sense in the air hinted that this was more than just another Temple-St. Joe's game. It was the final farewell to the Chaney Legacy, the final showdown between two of the city’s greatest players and the end of a very special era.

This was the conclusion of another magical chapter of Philadelphia basketball.

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