PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Over the past four years, Tyreek Duren has helped revitalize the La Salle men’s basketball program, leading the Explorers on a stunning run to the Sweet 16 last season after two decades of postseason futility.
But there was still one thing the senior point guard had never done in his college career: beat Temple.
Until Saturday, that is.
Duren scored 20 points, Tyrone Garland added 17 and La Salle extended its winning streak to five with a 74-68 win over city rival Temple on Saturday.
Steve Zack chipped in with 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Explorers (11-6), who defeated the Owls for the first time in their last nine tries.
“I feel like every game we played them had been a close game but we ended up losing the lead in the end,” Duren said. “But for us to close the game out like that, I think it means a lot for us and the La Salle community as a whole.”
Quenton DeCosey scored 21 points and Anthony Lee finished with 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for Temple (5-11). Depleted by injuries, the Owls only used seven players en route to their sixth straight loss.
With starting point guard Will Cummings missing his third straight with a head injury, guards Josh Brown and Dalton Pepper played a full 40 minutes and Lee played 39 minutes. Pepper finished with 15 points but shot just 5 for 17 from the field.
“If it is fatigue, there’s not a lot we can do about it,” Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’re pushing ourselves as good as we can. We’re getting the proper rest. We’re not going crazy at practice. It’s just one of those things. And not only does it manifest itself on defense sometimes, it also manifests itself on offense where maybe you take a bad shot that’s not necessary.”
Despite being so short-handed, Temple pulled within two on a driving layup from Pepper with 38.5 seconds remaining, after trailing by eight less than a minute before that.
But, in what Dunphy later revealed to be a mistake, Temple fouled Duren, La Salle’s most experienced player. Duren drained two free throws with 15.6 seconds left and, after Pepper threw it away on the other end, Garland made two more foul shots to seal the victory right in front of La Salle’s cheering section.
“They came through,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said of Duren and Garland, two of the team’s four seniors. “And they should feel good about themselves.”
Saturday’s game had some extra juice to it as ESPN’s College GameDay was filmed on the Palestra floor beforehand, marking the first time the pregame show has ever come to the historic gymnasium.
Fans of both schools -Temple’s decked out in red, La Salle in yellow - packed the stands more than two hours before tipoff to stand behind the GameDay set, cheering back-and-forth at each other, holding signs and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the country’s most famous arenas.
“I thought it was great,” Dunphy said. “None of our kids had ever been involved in it and when we got here, the craziness was there and they got a bit of a start. I think it was what Philadelphia college basketball is all about. And we were proud to be a part of it.”
With the gym filled to capacity, fans were treated to a well-played, back-and-forth half that featured six ties, before La Salle scored the final 10 points to take a 36-31 lead into the halftime break.
Temple cut La Salle’s lead to 46-45 with just under 13 minutes remaining but the Explorers quickly went on an 11-1 run to build their lead to 11.
The Owls then clawed to within four on a DeCosey 3-pointer with five minutes left, before Garland and Duren made enough plays down the stretch to carry the Explorers to another big win for a team that’s had a few of them over the past couple of years.
“It’s huge,” Giannini said. “Everything about our program is very different than it was three years ago. Our students are amazing, the kids in school have now been bred on really good basketball, and our exposure is much, much higher. I feel great about where we’re at.”
Saturday’s game was part of the Philadelphia Big 5 series, a round-robin tournament featuring five of the city’s Division I programs: Temple, La Salle, Villanova, Saint Joseph’s and Penn. Both the Owls and Explorers now sport 2-1 Big 5 records.
All Big 5 games used to be at played at the Palestra - the venerable, old gymnasium on Penn’s campus - but in recent years teams have moved the games to their own arenas.
Temple and La Salle agreed to play Saturday’s game at the Palestra for the opportunity to bring College GameDay at Philadelphia. It marked the first time the two city rivals have met at the Palestra since 1989.
Giannini thinks it should happen more often.
“I just don’t know why you wouldn’t want to play here,” Giannini said. “It’s just an awesome experience. There’s nothing else like it - in Chicago, in New York, in L.A. It’s just terrific.”
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