By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK – UMass and Temple are certainly not Syracuse and Georgetown, nor can those two rivalries even compare, but for longtime Atlantic-10 loyalists, UMass-Temple used to mean something.
When the Minutemen and Owls got together, especially in the mid-1990′s, it was Marcus Camby, Dana Dingle, Donta Bright and Carmelo Travieso. It was Lou Roe and Eddie Jones. And, most famously, or infamously if you choose to view it that way, it was ex-Temple head coach John Chaney interrupting a UMass-Temple postgame press conference in 1994, confronting then-UMass head coach John Calipari and telling him he was going to kill him while the two had to be separated.
Yes, UMass-Temple used to mean a whole lot to a lot of people. But now, it’s all over.
Thanks to conference realignment and Temple moving to the America-12, the Minutemen and Owls met for the final time on Friday evening as conference rivals in an Atlantic-10 Tournament quarterfinal at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, a 79-74 win for the Minutemen, who kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. They will meet VCU in Saturday afternoon’s second semifinal at 4 p.m. back at Barclays.
“It’s something that, obviously as a player, it was big-time and I think it still carries some weight,” said UMass head coach Derek Kellogg, who played for Calipari from 1992-95 during the rivalry’s heyday. “We’re gonna miss them, but at the same token, we gotta pick somebody else to pick a beef with.”
Brooklyn-born UMass point guard Chaz Williams, a former star at Bishop Ford High School, scored a game-high 28 points to go along with six assists and five rebounds to lead the way, while a 3-pointer from the right wing by Terrell Vinson made the score 76-71 to all but seal it with 33 seconds left.
“That’s what we’ve come to expect out of UMass-Temple games dating back to a long time ago,” Kellogg said. “I thought it was another epic battle and we were fortunate enough to make some big plays down the stretch.”
While Syracuse-Georgetown conjured up memories and emotions, UMass-Temple can do the same for some people.
The days of Calipari spearheading deep March runs in Amherst and packing the Mullins Center are long over, as are the days of Chaney’s Temple teams squeezing upwards of 4,000 people into the old McGonigle Hall and seemingly forever getting to the Elite Eight, but never a Final Four.
Calipari also went 4-1 against Chaney in A-10 Tournament finals, with all four coming in a row from 1993-96.
What we’re left with is a UMass program that has been stuck in neutral since Calipari left following the 1996 Final Four season, which was later vacated thanks to Camby being ruled in eligible due to contact with an agent, and a Temple program that has risen back towards the class of the A-10 under Fran Dunphy, a Philadelphia native.
While the Owls are NCAA Tournament-bound for the sixth straight season, the 21-10 Minutemen likely need to win the A-10 Tournament to go dancing. If not, they are likely headed back to the NIT after falling in a semifinal last season to Stanford at Madison Square Garden.
“If you ask me, I believe so,” Williams said when asked if UMass is an NCAA Tournament team right now. “That’s what we’re working for and we’re trying to prove to the world we belong and we’re just going to keep fighting until we make it.”
For the record, Temple now leads the all-time series, 45-21, and has dominated the series recently, having now won six of the last 10 meetings and 16 of the last 22 between the teams.