Worth Keeping

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was correct before Saturday's Big 5 game at the Palestra when he noted ESPN GameDay wouldn't be there if the contest was at the Liacouras Center or the Tom Gola Arena. After an old-school city series thriller won by La Salle, 74-68, in front of a national TV audience, it was clear there's really no other place a Big 5 game should be played.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was correct before Saturday's Big 5 game at the Palestra when he noted ESPN GameDay wouldn't be there if the contest was at the Liacouras Center or the Tom Gola Arena.

After an old-school city series thriller won by La Salle, 74-68, in front of a national TV audience, it was clear there's really no other place a Big 5 game should be played.

It's been decades since teams took to the historic gymnasium on Penn's campus – one of the best college basketball arenas in the country – for Big 5 doubleheaders when all the city series games were played in front of shared crowds, a tradition that died in large part because schools didn't want to give up their home games.

But it was impossible to sit there on Saturday with the old building filled to the corners, the student sections mocking each other with rollouts, the left side of the building decked in yellow and the right in cherry and sounds reverberating off the walls and not think "Why hold these games anywhere else?"

The teams agreed to move this year's game and next to accommodate ESPN, but having a national network there was only a very small part of the festivities.

"What a great atmosphere," said La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini in his opening statement after the game. "I see a lot of people here who have been to a lot of Big 5 games. I just don't know why you wouldn't want to keep that tradition going. People talk about, well you lose home revenue. If you split the house, I know one-half times two is the same as one home game every other year. I don't know why we wouldn't want to play here?

"There's nothing else like it, in Chicago, in L.A., it was just terrific. This is unique, it's a split house and you're in the most historic building in the country. We play 20, nearly 30 home-and-home games a year. That's normal. This is not normal, in a good way. It's wonderful."

The large, engaged crowd showed up even though the Owls had lost five straight, and were sitting at 5-10, in the midst of their worst season in eight years.

Would the atmosphere, the acoustics, the crowd size, the intensity be better at the Liacouras Center? Hawk Hill? Gola Arena? The Pavilion?

No, no, certainly no and definitely no.

"I thought (the atmosphere) was great, obviously none of our kids had ever been involved in it and when we got there today the craziness was there and they got a bit of a start," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "It was a great (game) to be in. It's what Philadelphia college basketball is all about.

"I think it's not easy (to do it all the time) because everybody has put time and effort into their buildings. Do you want to give that up? For guys who have been around a bit, you remember that atmosphere and how special it is. I think it's difficult to do. Time's have changed in college basketball. That's the reality. That's the way it is."

Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee, now in his fourth year at Temple and who has seen 15 Big 5 games, admitted this one topped them all in many ways.

"It was so much louder, it was the first time I heard it this super loud and my ears popped a little bit," said Lee. "The atmosphere was great, seeing both teams, all the different people, alumni, celebrities in the building. It was a great atmosphere for college basketball and for us to experience."

The Atlantic 10 Tournament was held at the Palestra for years before it was moved a couple miles away to the Spectrum. It moved around to the Civic Center, Cincinnati, Dayton, Atlantic City, Brooklyn. … and the tournament has never packed the house or had the same juice like it did in the Palestra.

The Owls and Explorers will be back at the Palestra next year. They should continue the tradition year after year – and while it is extremely unlikely as Dunphy noted, it would be nice if Villanova and St. Joe's would agree to do the same.

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