City Thriller

As reports continued to indicate that Temple is headed to the Big East Conference for all sports, the men's basketball team still had an Atlantic 10 Conference game to win. And it wasn't easy. The Owls overcame a late La Salle rally and 33 points from Earl Pettis to defeat the Explorers, 80-79, in overtime at a sold-out, emotionally-charged Tom Gola Arena.

As reports continued to indicate that Temple is headed to the Big East Conference for all sports, the men's basketball team still had an Atlantic 10 Conference game to win.

And it wasn't easy.

The Owls overcame a late La Salle rally and 33 points from Earl Pettis to defeat the Explorers, 80-79, in overtime at a sold-out, emotionally-charged Tom Gola Arena.

The victory gave Temple an 11-game winning streak, its longest since the 1999-2000 season. The Owls clinched a share of the Big Five title – they can win it outright with a victory at St. Joe's on Saturday – and moved closer to wrapping up the A-10's regular-season crown.

The 22nd-ranked Owls are 22-5 overall and 11-2 in the Atlantic 10, needing two wins in their last three games to secure the No. 1 seed for the A-10 Tournament. La Salle fell to 18-10, 7-6.

"We had a couple big leads in this game and every time we got up, they kept fighting us," said Temple junior Khalif Wyatt, who scored 25 points. "They bounced back."

Temple led 70-60 with just 2:47 to play, but Pettis scored the Explorers' last 13 points of the second half – including 11 in the last three minutes while the Owls managed just one point - to force overtime. Pettis' three-pointer with 1:25 to play tied the game at 71 and neither team scored a basket the rest of the way.

Pettis opened overtime with another three-pointer, but Ramone Moore answered with a three of his own, then hit a jumper for a 76-74 lead the Owls never relinquished.

Still, La Salle had its chances to win. After Juan Fernandez missed a layup holding a one-point lead, the Explorers set up for the last shot. Pettis missed a three-pointer with five seconds remaining, D.J. Peterson rebounded for the Explorers and Sam Mills was off on a three-pointer with two seconds to go as the Owls exhaled.

"Khalif got matched on (Pettis) and certainly wanted the credit for contesting his shot," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "It would have been poetic justice the way Earl played if it went in. We just got lucky at the end there.

"We should have been able to manage that game better than we did. We didn't keep our poise the way we needed to. We just escaped here, that's all it was."

Said Wyatt: "(Pettis) had a great second half, he got a pretty good shot off (at the end), but I played pretty good defense and thank God he missed it. Then (Mills) got another good shot in the corner and thank God they missed that."

Pettis was 11-for-21 from the field, 5-of-10 on threes and 6-for-6 from the line, which went a long way towards explaining why the Owls struggled to win a game in which they shot 72 percent in the second half.

Moore finished with 18 points, overcoming a slow first 40 minutes to help the Owls salvage the victory. He added nine rebounds and five assists, but was called for a key technical foul with Temple holding a five-point lead with 1:33 to play.

Pettis hit both free throws then a three-pointer to tie the game at 71.

"I know Ramone, I know he was sorry (the technical) happened to him and his teammates, but he rescued us in overtime," said Dunphy.

Wyatt led the way overall with 25 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-5 from three, though didn't get a shot off at the end of regulation when the Owls had a chance to win the game.

Micheal Eric, who missed the first meeting with the Explorers with a patella injury, contributed 18 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks.

Eric came back from the two-month layoff on Jan. 21 and the Owls haven't lost since.

"This was (Eric's) best game," said Dunphy. "If he blocked six, he probably changed another four or five."

Said Eric: "I'm still working on a lot of things, staying low, finishing. Every day's a good day. … or it could be a bad day, but it's still a work in progress."

Fernandez had just two points after knocking down six threes against Duquesne Saturday, but contributed eight rebounds and seven assists.

It was a game the Owls had won – and seemingly lost – on a number of occasions. It was a typical Big 5 game – and just maybe for one of the last times, a typical Atlantic 10 game.

"I think that's the competiveness of the Big 5 and the A-10, and that's what we expect and that's what we got," said Eric. "That was a great crowd tonight."

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