HILADELPHIA — This was the type of team University of Massachusetts men's basketball coach Bruiser Flint had envisioned all along, a team of height and depth and courage, receiving contributions from multiple sources.
That team was missing in action during nonconference play, when UMass started 2-9. But with Saturday's 65-64 overtime win at Temple, the Minutemen offered perhaps their strongest evidence to date that what started out as a terrible season may yet wind up as a remarkable comeback story.
"We came to Philadelphia and got two wins," Flint said as he savored the victories over La Salle (62-58) and Temple. "Not many teams can say that."
UMass (8-10, 6-1 Atlantic 10) has won four straight, its longest streak since a 10-game surge in 1997-98. The Minutemen have already won at Xavier and Temple — two of the toughest venues in the A-10 — as well as at La Salle, which has a winning record at home.
Tomorrow night's game at the Providence Civic Center against Rhode Island (5-15, 1-6) doesn't figure to be as intimidating, even after the Rams snapped a seven-game losing streak with Saturday's 96-92 double-overtime win over La Salle.
But it's another step for UMass, which enters the week in a three-way tie for first place with St. Joseph's and Xavier. The Minutemen have proven they can play smartly and tenaciously, and winning at Temple might have been the best example yet.
"We talked about being patient on offense," Flint said after UMass had done a nice job against Temple's zone defense. "In one (second-half) stretch, we didn't attack it, but instead went side to side. But otherwise, we attacked in pretty well."
There's still room for improvement. Forward Micah Brand is 5 for 18 in his last two games, even though almost all his shots have been from close range.
UMass has also shown a tendency to lose second-half leads, especially on the road — seven points at St. Bonaventure, 11 at La Salle and seven at Temple. In an 80-69 win over Duquesne at the Springfield Civic Center, the Minutemen saw a 10-point first-half lead disappear.
But part of that trend might be due to the simple fact it's very difficult for a visiting team to control the flow of an entire game. Saturday's win was a result of playing with intelligence and poise.
Shannon Crooks, whose left ankle has been tender lately, scored seven points with three assists, and hit a key 3-point shot in overtime. He and Jonathan DePina probed the Temple zone skillfully, as did forward Winston Smith, whose six assists tied a career high, with no turnovers.
In the first half, DePina hit two 3-point shots, foiling Temple coach John Chaney's strategy to concede the shot to him. DePina has hit 16 of 41 3-pointers this year and is a career 42.3 percent 3-point shooter.
He has made 41 in his career, four shy of the number required for listing in the UMass record book. But DePina's percentage would rank him second to Carl Smith (44.3) on the all-time list.
DePina also has 49 assists and 29 turnovers this year, a ratio which would rank eighth in the A-10 if he averaged the required minimum of three assists per game. DePina is averaging 2.7.
Another key contributor has been forward Ronell Blizzard. The 6-foot-8 junior hit two 3-point shots against Temple, but his real contribution lately has been his defensive presence on the perimeter.
Rhode Island, the next opponent, snapped its losing streak behind a career-high 38 points from junior guard Zach Marbury.