For the first time in history, Philadelphia's Big Five finished in a five-way tie at 2-2. Perhaps they should send the trophy to American University.
The underrated, even scorned, Eagles smashed Temple, 70-62, today and completed a perfect (11-0) season in the East Coast Conference. In the process, American whipped three Big Five clubs, two of them this week at the Palestra.
Philadelphia's famous den of din was not as noisy today as it was on Tuesday, when the Eagles beat St. Joseph's in overtime. For one reason, Temple was never in front after the first five minutes. For another, more than half the sellout crowd of 9,208 left after Villanova beat St. Joseph's in the opener 72-62.
NBC-TV chose to televise that game instead of the AU-Temple showdown. The Philadelphia Daily News had a one-paragraph mention of the Eagles far down in its St. Joe's-Villanova story. It mattered not at all to the Eagles.
It was not a pretty victory, but it was an enthousiastic one. American hustled from end to end, battled the taller Owls to a standstill on the boards and made the key free throws that maintained it lead down the stretch.
"Winning here twice in a week is hard to believe," said Coach Gary Williams. "But we've played in tough places on the road all year. I did't know if we'd win, but I knew we'd play.
"The chemistry's good on our team. The players really like each other. That sounds like a cliche, but when we come to play we're kind of like a family. We play together all the way."
That was evident from the scoring figures, evenly divided as the Eagles did not hesitate to pass to teammates. Mark Nickens had 14, Ed Sloane 13, Juan Jones a career-high 12- Dennis Ross 11 and foul-plagued Robin Hoey and Gordon Austin eight each.
"We would have liked to be on TV but we had a job to do," Ross said. "We weren't as awed about this game as we were for St. Joe's. And the lack of a crowd had something to do with it."
"We don't care about crowds," Hoey said. "We had something to do and the lack of a crowd didn't get in our way."
"I think the fact that they switched the games made us more determined," said Austin, who hit six of seven free throws in the last three minutes.
American (22-4) established a new high in victories for its 14 years as a Division One school. Next in line for the Eagles is an East Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinal at Fort Myer on Wednesday, against either La Salle or Drexel.
The Eagles, hitting only two of their first nine shots, trailed 6-4 before scoring eight straight points. They never trailed again, although Temple tied the game at 22 and 24.
It is not often a team can build an eight-point lead while shooting 32 percent, but the Eagles did in the first 8 1/2 minutes. American scored on seven of 22 to grab a 16-8 advangantage because Temple was able to connect on only three of 19 for 16 percent.
Temple went more than six minutes without a point before Keith Parham hit a long jumper and the Owls (18-6) endured another drought of more than three munites while the Eagles bult the 16-8 margin.
Of course, no team is going to shoot 16 percent of long. Temple took aa timeout, waited more patiently for good shots and gradually got back in the game. Its big gun turned out to be Terence Stansbury, a 6-5 freshman forced into action when Jim McLoughlin sprained an ankle in the third minute of play. Stansbury was the game's top scorer with 18 points.
The Eagles held a 30-28 halftime lead, then neither team could score for more than two minutes after the intermision. Hoey finally scored on a jump shot and Temple was unable to pull even thereafter.
"I think the key to winning was the way we kept our composure at the start of the second half when no one scored," Williams said. "Usually when that happens here, the home team is the one that starts hitting and pulls away."
From a 38-36 edge, American pulled away with five straight points, four by Ross. The Owls got no closer then five the rest of the way.