PHILADELPHIA – Though the top ranked Villanova Wildcats came into the Liacouras Center this past Wednesday and seemingly dominated the Temple Owls in front of a sold out crowd, one player for Fran Dunphy refused to go down without a fight.
“Trey Lowe seized the moment,” Dunphy proudly said after the game. “It was terrific to watch two freshman go like that. No fear -- they just wanted that opportunity.”
The other freshman Dunphy was referring to was Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, a good friend of Lowe and a familiar name in the Philadelphia community.
Brunson dominated Temple from the game’s outset, leading the Wildcats’ to a 35-23 halftime lead with a team high 8 points in the first half.
In the second half, Villanova as a team was able to take advantage of the early double-digit lead by pressuring the Owls into bad shots and turnovers to make the disparity even larger. With 10 minutes left in regulation, Villanova led Temple by 23, sucking the life out of not only the Owl fans, but the entire team as well.
Though the upperclassmen seemed deflated by the insurmountable lead they let balloon, Trey Lowe was the Owl to bring life back to the cherry-and-white.
A three pointer by Lowe at the 7:37 mark in the second half closed the gap to 15 points. Though the advantage still seemed a bit too large considering the time left and the discipline of the number one team in the nation, the crowd started to buzz following the triple.
Then on the next possession, Trey Lowe and Josh Brown trapped Villanova’s Josh Hart into a turnover, and in transition, Lowe hit his second consecutive three to cut the lead to 12. This brought the Liacouras Center crowd to a roar that hadn’t been that loud since the first time Temple scored in the game.
Despite the momentum completely turning over to Temple, Jalen Brunson, the star freshman for Jay Wright’s veteran team, calmly drew a foul on the next trip down the floor to push the lead back to 14 with 7 minutes left in the game.
The quick offensive exchanges by the two New Jersey natives brought an unexpected intensity to what seemed to be a game that was already decided.
Then, the fans got a little taste of the neophytes once again at the 3:50 mark in the second half.
With a 14 point Villanova lead, after the upperclassmen on both teams traded buckets for multiple possessions, Trey Lowe was able to get his hands on the ball and draw a foul. He made both free throws to cut the Wildcat lead to 12, but for Villanova, Jalen Brunson wanted to answer back.
Answering back is exactly what the freshmen did for the top ranked Wildcats, scoring on an acrobatic, up-and-under layup to put the Wildcats up 73-59.
Trey Lowe brushed off Brunson’s rapid answer with a response of his own, drilling a corner three to bring Temple within 11 points with 3:21 left in the game, the closest they had been since the first half.
However, Brunson came out and scored the next basket of the game, pushing the lead back up to 13 with two minutes left that ultimately put the game out of reach.
Lowe would have the last shot though, draining a pull-up three with under a minute to go to give him his 21st point of the game, a career high for the young Owl.
At the game’s conclusion, Lowe ended up scoring 14 points in the final 10 minute comeback effort, more than half of Temple’s 27 points scored during that duration. 19 of Trey Lowe’s 21 total points came in the second half, proving that he truly refused to back down to the challenge.
For the winning squad, Brunson scored a game high 25 points, which included a number of clutch buckets that kept the Owls out of reach in the closing minutes of regulation.
The two freshmen were the only players out of the 19 that played to scored more than 20 points.
“Jalen Brunson is a great player,” Lowe said of his 19 year-old counterpart after the game. “We played in high-school and he came into college as a known player…I figured he would come out and play his hardest game.”
When asked if he played with any of Temple’s players in casual pick-up games before, Brunson responded that he knew the freshmen class very well.
“Trey and (Levan Alston Jr.), we’re good friends,” Brunson said. “Those two I have a good relationship with. They’re great freshman and they played well.”
Though Alston has played several fine games this season, in the Villanova contest, it was clearly Lowe’s shining moment.
“We knew he was a great. We recruited him too…he was a great scorer in high-school.” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Trey Lowe after the game. “Once he got it going, it didn’t surprise us. We were hoping, (since) he’s a freshman, he wouldn’t get it going, but he did.”
Overall, despite this year’s contest not being as close as many would prefer, the head-to-head exchanges by Lowe and Brunson may have foreshadowed what Philadelphia Big 5 and college basketball fans have in store for the next few years in this rivalry.
Hopefully, the rise of Lowe and Brunson -- and even Levan Alston Jr. -- will not only bring excitement back to the Big 5, but also make the rivalries that much more competitive, and that much more intense.
Photos: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament