Saturday, March 24, 2001

Temple 84, Penn State 72

Chaney nears first Final Four

AP Sports Writer

        ATLANTA — The thin bench, the gimmicky defense and the frumpy curmudgeon of a coach have turned Temple into the darlings of the NCAA tournament.

        Opponents are the only ones who can't seem to find anything lovable about these guys.

        John Chaney took his rumpled shirt, his loosened tie and his vexing matchup-zone defense to the cusp of the Final Four again Friday night, thanks to an 84-72 victory over flustered Penn State.

        Lynn Greer scored 21 points to lead the Owls (24-12), who will play in the South Regional final Sunday against Michigan State, a 77-62 winner over Gonzaga.

        “We've played them before,” Chaney said, recalling a 60-59 victory two seasons ago. “I know they're tough, extremely tough. I'm just hoping we give them a good ballgame.”

        Anything seems possible for this 11th seed that has been as dominating and perplexing as any team in the tournament over the last two weeks.

        The Owls have won their games by an average of 15 points. They built an 18-point halftime lead against No. 7 seed Penn State (21-12) and — just like last week against Texas and Florida — the second half was mostly a matter of running out the clock.

        “We do a great job of controlling the ball, and making teams play like we want,” said Alex Wesby, one of three players to log 40 minutes for the Owls, who only play seven guys. “With good defense, we always know we'll be in the game.”

        Chaney made his fifth regional final in 19 years at the school based in the hardscrabble streets of north Philly, but the 69-year-old coach is still seeking his first trip to the Final Four.

        This might be the most unlikely group to make it. Temple lost seven straight in December, part of an awful stretch filled with injuries and the departure of two players who were supposed to play key roles.

        “It would be a great feeling to be the first team to get him there,” David Hawkins said. “Not just for him, but for us.”

        Jon Crispin hit a 3-pointer to pull the Nittany Lions within 10 with three minutes remaining, but the Owls made 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch to ice the game. They shot 26-for-30 from the line.

        Thus ended a nice run for the Nittany Lions, who struggled on the big stage that the Penn State football program is more accustomed to.

        Joe Paterno, Franco Harris and a host of gridiron greats watched from the stands, drawing more applause from Penn State fans as they took their seats than almost anything the basketball team did over a flustering 40 minutes.

        “Stick to football,” the small contingent of Temple fans chanted, as the second half wore on.

        Temple put this game away by outscoring the Lions 22-5 over the last 11 1/2 minutes of the first half. The matchup zone made Penn State miserable, as guards Crispin and Titus Ivory struggled to find holes to dribble or pass through.

        Temple allowed only one basket — a tip-in by Gyasi Cline-Heard — over the final 11 minutes of the half, and Penn State settled for a series of rushed 3-pointers, a few of which barely drew iron.

        “It definitely hurts, but this has been a great ride for myself, the seniors and the entire Penn State team,” Ivory said. “We didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish, but we accomplished more than people thought we would.”

        Crispin, who averaged 17 points in leading Penn State this far, was barely a factor, making just four shots and finishing with 12 points. His brother, Jon, had six points on 2-for-10 shooting. Ivory led Penn State with 20 points.

        The Lions thought a few extra days to prepare, combined with their 66-60 victory over Temple in December, might help them decipher the zone.

        “We didn't do a bad job,” Joe Crispin said. “We just didn't hit some looks that we normally make.”

        Penn State shot 40 percent and hit 13 of 33 3-pointers.

        Temple's offense isn't bad either.

        Greer, the leader of Temple's four-guard lineup, went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line to improve to 49-for-50 this postseason. He also played 40 minutes. Center Kevin Lyde was a presence inside, with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Reserve Greg Jefferson had a career-high 15 points, and sparked Temple's first-half runaway.

        “He was big,” Wesby said. “He came off the bench when we weren't hitting shots and helped us control the tempo.”

        Temple's efficiency kept the normally demonstrative Chaney sitting placidly, except for during Penn State's brief rally late in the second half. But this was never really a sweat — Temple kept its lead in double digits over the final 27 minutes.

        It was Temple's 10th straight victory, and once again put Chaney in reach of one of the few goals to elude him over a career that has included 431 victories and 17 trips to the NCAA tournament.

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