HILADELPHIA -- A last-second loss would have been enough. Had they lost their composure with two minutes, five minutes, seven minutes to play, they still would have earned respect. With all the University of Massachusetts had stacked against it last night, anything less than suffering a blowout would have been impressive.
But not only did it impress, UMass won. It won before a capacity crowd that lined up to enter McGonigle Hall at 3:30 for a 9:30 p.m. game and cheered at a deafening pitch the minute it was allowed inside. UMass won as many of the home team's former players returned for added support, in a game marking perhaps the final home appearance of two future NBA stars, on a court on which the Minutemen had never won in 12 tries.
UMass beat Temple, 51-50, last night when Mike Williams banked in a 3-point basket with eight seconds left. The Minutemen, ranked 11th and 23-5 overall, clinched their third consecutive Atlantic 10 regular-season title while improving their conference mark to 13-1.
Most important, UMass solidified itself as the standard-bearer in the Atlantic 10, having disposed of the once-marquee team five of their last six meetings. Few would have thought you could ever say this about the series, but the next time Temple defeats UMass, it will be an upset.
"Temple had a million reasons to win, but we had a million reasons to win, too," said UMass head coach John Calipari, who was on the receiving end of a obscenities-filled confrontation with Temple coach John Chaney at the Mullins Center Feb. 13. Chaney was blasted nationally for the incident but supported heavily in the Philadelphia area, and many of his rooters came out to cheer him on against Calipari and UMass last night.
"This game was big for us," said Calipari. "And I tried to instill that in our guys, and I think Mike Williams will say the same thing. I've never seen him this excited before a game."
FYI, it's the same Mike Williams who hit a leaning two-handed scoop shot in the lane with a second left to defeat Temple, 56-55, in Amherst. He has pulled off the feat so often (he had game-winning shots against Oklahoma and North Carolina this season, Rutgers and George Washington last year), that it's no surprise when he gets the ball for the final shot.
"I thought this time they were going to run out on me," said Williams. ''Assistant coach James Flint told me that chances are they would send two defenders out there."
Instead, Temple sent just one, 6-foot-7-inch forward Eddie Jones, a senior considered a first-round NBA draft pick, to guard the 6-1 Williams. Williams merely launched the ball with a higher arc than usual.
"A little too high," said Williams. "I had to put it in off the backboard."
"I'm sure Williams didn't aim for the backboard," said Chaney. "If any pro scouts were out there watching, they should take note. He's had game- winners very often."
Temple took a 50-48 lead with 1:10 left on two free throws by Jones. UMass center Marcus Camby committed a turnover on the Minutemen's next possession, but with 23 seconds left, Temple guard Rick Brunson threw a pass that went through the hands of Jones, setting up Williams' heroics.
It was a bitter ending for the eighth-ranked Owls (20-5, 12-4), who shot 28 percent in the first half, trailed, 30-21, at the break and rarely looked fluid last night. Temple's best surge came early in the second half when it attacked the UMass defense, whittled away at the lead and went ahead, 44-42, with 8:36 left on a Jones 3-pointer. Had it not been for Jones (22 points), Temple would have lost by much more. Temple's other standout, Aaron McKie, had just 13 points.
"We just never got any easy baskets," said Chaney. "Our kids did a great job playing defense. UMass did an excellent job playing defense."
Other UMass teams may have folded under the pressure when Temple took the lead, but UMass stayed within 2 the rest of the way.
"We were fortunate," said Calipari. "You have to understand it's a crap-shoot when you're playing them in this kind of game. We've been lucky."
HILADELPHIA -- We tiptoed into the interview room after the UMass victory. This one no doubt probably stung even more than the Minutemen's 1-point win in Amherst 11 days earlier. We remembered what happened then. There was no telling what Temple coach John Chaney might do last night.
This time he'd been outcoached in his own building. He saw his team blow a lead in the final minute. His guys didn't foul when they should have fouled and they let 3-point zonebuster Mike Williams beat them again (this time, off the backboard with eight seconds left). It was the first time UMass ever won in the McGonigle matchbox.
What would Chaney do? Would we witness another Jack Nicholson, five-star nutty? Would the Temple coach react like the Three Stooges' Curley when he hears, "Pop Goes the Weasel"? Would this be like watching Roger Clemens go at it with Terry Cooney?
It was none of the above.
On this night, UMass and Temple played another wonderful college basketball game, but neither coach had to be restrained when it was over.
"That's past," said a composed, contrite Chaney. "I don't carry things like that around. There's certainly a lot of pain when all this happened. I'm a dinosaur and I have problems with certain things in my league, but one thing I don't have a problem with is saying I'm sorry and moving on.
"People in the stands had their own motivation. They were stirred up because of all the problems that I brought up when I had the altercation in Mass and rightfully so."
It had been billed as John Calipari vs. John Chaney. It certainly had all the ingredients: a pair of top-11 teams, ESPN, Spike Lee, and a raucous Temple crowd in the McGonigle barn.
Fans started arriving more than four hours before game time and by 9:30 p.m. all eyes and cameras were focused on the corner hallway that leads to the Temple dressing room. Everybody wanted to see John Chaney make his entrance.
It was to be the first time Chaney and Calipari met since the Temple coach went ballistic during a press conference after UMass' win at Amherst. That was the day Chaney pointed at Calipari and said, "I'll kill you. You remember that."
Calipari was first to appear on the court before the start of last night's game. He came out with his team after the national anthem. Like any good prizefighter, Chaney milked the moment and delayed his arrival. Holding "We love Coach Chaney" placards, most members of the crowd chanted, "Chaney, Chaney." A man behind the Temple bench held a sign that read, "Let's Get Ready to Rumble."
The clock wound down. Photographers were led to the middle of the court to capture the impending peace offering. With 1:09 left on the pregame scoreboard, Chaney finally appeared. Two police officers led him to his bench. He sat down. There was no gaze toward the other end of the floor where Calipari stood.
After his players were introduced, Chaney worked his way across the court, toward Calipari. They shook hands. They embraced. It was a definite Kodak Moment. If Tonya ever apologizes, maybe she and Nancy could take a lesson. And that goes double for Michael and LaToya.
"It wasn't difficult to walk over there and shake his hand," said Chaney. "I don't worry about that . . . I've been under a microscope all my life. You can write, read, create what you see, but what you saw was 10 kids on the basketball floor who made it happen. That's where the story is. The story is found in those kids."
The kids were all right. UMass has clinched the Atlantic 10 regular-season crown and could face Temple again in Amherst on March 10, the date of the conference tourney final. These are two good teams, and it would be fun to watch them duel one more time. Does Williams maybe have one more miracle shot in him?
Williams was the person everybody was talking about after this game. That's the way it should be. The coach controversy finally moved to the background.
"This was a great college basketball game," said Calipari. "I thought both teams fought like heck. Either team could have won this game. But I think it was a fine performance by two teams that, hopefully, if they separate us, can advance in the NCAA tournament.
"I've never seen our kids this excited before a basketball game. This is what we live for. This kind of intensity. This kind of pressure. And the environment.
"Forget about the incident. The incident happened. It's over. Hopefully, we'll go on and get this thing behind us. I have some empathy for John.
''This has been a tough situation for me and my family. My daughter asked me if I was going to get hurt in Philadelphia. That's not fair. But on the same side, I look at it and I see what John Chaney is going through and I have some empathy. I can accept the apology. Let's move on. This is a nice win."
HILADELPHIA -- It was cold, windy and relatively quiet along the streets surrounding Temple's McGonigle Hall last night at 8 p.m. That's because most people were already seated inside, having created such a stir outside school officials felt compelled to let them in.
Temple students began lining up outside the gym at about 3:30 p.m., yesterday, six hours before the start of college basketball's most eagerly anticipated rematch of the year. The Owls hosted the University of Massachusetts in a game that also drew more than 70 members of the media.
Several hundred students began congregating around the alley way between McGonigle and adjacent Pearson Hall, and when they began getting rowdy, Temple officials opened the doors at 7:15 p.m. They usually open doors about an hour before tipoff.
Christian Berg, a junior from Providence who was in the alley way at the time, said that when the doors opened, "it was like a mob scene.
"It was just a sea of students," Berg added. "Everyone was so jammed up against each other that I felt that if my feet had left the floor they wouldn't have touched the ground again, and I would have just floated in.
"When they went to open the door, everyone just tried to get in so fast that they broke the door locks off the door."
Students were falling to the ground and some were vomitting when the doors opened. "People yelled out, 'Someone's going to get crushed here,' " said Berg. "One girl panicked and started flailing her arms at everybody around her. Then two or three cops came in, parted everyone and took her away. I've never seen anything like it."
When the students took their seats inside, the rowdiness stopped. Well sort of. Many donned T-shirts suited for the occasion, including one that said, ''Chaney's favorite food: fried Calipari," making reference to Temple head coach John Chaney, who helped make the ESPN-televised game a media spectacle with his obscenity-filled outburst at Calipari following the UMass-Temple game Feb. 13.
When students began stomping and chanting while seated in the section, police and other officials were sent in to calm them down. The school's marketing and promotions department tried to create a more orderly misconduct, passing out signs that read, "We love coach Chaney."
"It's never been like this here before," said Berg. "You see students from schools like Duke and North Carolina camping out overnight for tickets. Our teams are just as good as theirs, but that kind of thing never happens here. But this is a lot like that."
Calipari and his team received police escort into the bulding last night, and when the Minutemen finished shooting in the pregame warmups, they were escorted by police. In fact, the men in blue were everywhere, particularly outside, where some patrolled on bicycles.
Following UMass' win over St. Joseph's Thursday night, Calipari said that if there was any incident before or during the game he would take his team away and not play the game. Most Temple students said they didn't expect anything of the sort to occur, but one wasn't so sure.
"I don't know," said Eric DeLoach, a junior from Washington, D.C. He stretched the "I" in his sentence a few seconds. "Me personally, I'm not going to do anything. But if we lose this game, I don't know what's going to happen. Hopefully the fans won't do anything. I know the players won't."
DeLoach and others said that the students would have come out in large numbers anyway, because the game marked seniors night, and many wanted the see the final home games for seniors Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones, two players considered National Basketball Association draft picks.