By Emry DowningHall

The Temple Owls play their home games at the Liacouras Center on North Broad street in Philadelphia, Pa. That is, unless they’re playing the Duke Blue Devils. When the Dukies are in town the scene shifts to a made over Wachovia Center with an awkward Temple T at center court.

Temple University’s winter break and a sea of blue and white sweatshirts made Wednesday night’s “home game” a neutral site at best for the Owls. None of this bothered Temple coach Fran Dunphy (who looks a bit like an aged Ron Burgundy), who told me he had so much admiration for Duke’s program that he would “play them as often as possible, wherever he could.”

Duke trotted into the game with an 11-1 record and ranked #7 in the nation, while the Owls came in unranked at a modest 6-6.

The game was a homecoming for Duke sophomore Gerald Henderson, who played high school ball at neighboring Episcopal Academy. I had a chance to watch him play before he committed to Duke and I’m convinced the sky is the limit for this kid. Tonight’s box score (5 points, 5 rebounds) won’t reflect it, but his game will translate at the next level, bet it.

For the record, that Episcopal team was a problem. Not only did they have Henderson, but he was hoopin’ alongside Wayne Ellington. Yup, that Wayne Ellington.

It’s also worth pointing out that Coach K moved into 6th place on the all-time wins list with this victory. For all the negative talk I’ve heard (and said) about Duke through the years, I was shocked at how approachable and responsive Coach K was.

I’m not forgiving the run of network advertisements he does, or the “shame on you for calling a foul on Duke” look he gives the officials, but when it comes to coaching basketball, Coach K is the truth.

Wow, I just wrote a sentence praising Coach K, it must be getting late. So let me break this game down for you…

1st Half

The Temple Owls were introduced while DJ Khalid’s “We Taken’ Over” blared through the speaker system. Fellas listen, it was a good song, but it’s over. Can I get an update on the intro track? Sheesh.

To stay in this game Temple is going to need the sweet shooting stroke of Dionte Christmas to be in full effect and will require a strong effort from do-it-all senior Mark Tyndale. Tyndale is pound for pound as physically tough as any player in the country, and when his trey’s working, Christmas is a problem.

Gerald Henderson jumps out to a quick start scoring the game’s first points with a baseline drive to an up and under finish. The kid can fly. Although he’s very thin, he’s far from weak and plays much larger than his frame would indicate.

The game gets off to a very slow start. The score is still 2 – 0 at the 16:18 mark.

Jon Scheyer clanks a wide open three from the corner. Immediately the Duke crowd to my right begins to groan. Apparently they keep this kid on a short leash since the Pitt game.

Duke waits until the 15:17 mark to embrace one another for the first time with their linked arms ceremony. That’s quite a tradition. Imagine if, let’s say the Atlanta Hawks front office attempted to push something like that on their players? The first time someone tried to circle up around Josh Smith after a failed block attempt would be the last time.

Temple is still without a field goal at the 15-minute mark. It isn’t until freshman Lavoy Allen bodies Scheyer for an and-one that the cherry and white hit the scoreboard. Welcome Owls!

Temple forces a Duke switch and Greg Paulus is forced to guard Dionte Christmas on the block. Christmas isn’t known for his post game but he’s got enough to leave Paulus confused and alone. DeMarcus Nelson isn’t having that when he bodies him up and will certainly be running through screens from here on out.

Temple is hanging around early, mainly because there seems to be a protective coating on the Duke goal. Coach K looks like he’s going to commit manslaughter as another Blue Devil three ball rims out.

Look! It’s the Temple Owls dance team. My media program describes them as an urban/step combination and their song of choice is the urban/step staple, Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle.” Clearly the same DJ that hooked Temple up with its theme music dropped the bomb to this track.

Kyle Singler appears to do what he wants with his back to the basket against the Owls. Temple has a 7-foot center, Sergio Olmos, who can’t move quick enough to keep up and Temple’s Lavoy Allen is in foul trouble early. Speaking of Olmos, he will blow the chip shot of the game after electing to lay up a sweet drop off pass. This sequence was broken down best by Fran Dunphy after the game, “My love Serge, we love him. But dunk the damn ball!”

Dionte Christmas’s step back game hasn’t arrived for the first half. Temple’s in trouble.

Temple’s backup spark plug is 5’7” point guard Chris Clark. Think Earl Boykins without the drives to the hoop and with an uncanny resemblance to DJ Clue (here and here). Clark serves as a serviceable backup but tonight isn’t his night. He throws away two passes that led to easy Duke buckets.

Out of a Temple timeout the Owls immediately throw another turnover. Duke extends their lead to 10 points.

With 4:39 left in the first half Temple’s Lavoy Allen throws an elbow that connects to the jaw of Nolan Smith right in front of the Duke bench. Everyone jumps out of their seats but cooler heads prevail. Coach K shoots Allen a disappointed stare. Somewhere John Chaney smiles.

Halftime Reflections:

At the half Duke holds a 16-point lead, 39-23. The margin isn’t insurmountable Duke looks to be in cruise control. They are running their sets, and getting the looks they want, just missing the shots. Temple on the other hand looks rushed, and hasn’t established anything in the paint.

Remember when Temple basketball was synonymous with John Chaney? It was a lot more than Goon Gate, and “I’ll kill ya, you son of a bitch.” Chaney was an amazing coach running an outstanding program (I’m really feeling the love for the coaches tonight). If you watched those classic Temple teams the adjustments they’d make in the second half were tremendous. Let’s see if Fran Dunphy, a veteran himself of Philly hoops and Chaney’s successor, took anything from the wise old owl.

2nd Half:

If Kyle Singler ever develops an alternative for the slow-as-molasses release he’s currently sporting, he’ll be a problem. He can really shoot it, and with range. Dunphy would later say in the press conference, “What can you do when a guy his size is stepping out like that? You guard him, and he still makes the shot.” I would love to attend a press conference where a coach is questioned about a guy’s sweet shooting and he responded simply: “The kid has a super soaker. He’s wet. Let’s move on.”

18:33 left and Mark Tyndale sprints the length of the court to pin Greg Paulus’s lay-up off the glass. It was an amazing block, immaculate timing from the Temple senior.

During a media timeout Temple has a 3-point contest. If the contestant can make 2 treys in under a minute he wins free Qdoba for an entire semester. First, I’m not sure massive weight gain is widely considered an award but this seems easy enough. The guy, wearing a Temple sweatshirt, quickly buries 2 treys then proceeds to flick off the ESPN cameras. That seems about right.

Seemingly on cruise control, Duke inexplicably goes on an 8-minute scoring drought. Dionte Christmas catches fire from deep and nails back-to-back three balls. Duke counters by face guarding him and he proceeds to get to the basket and knock down 8 of 9 free throws during the Duke drought. It’s an 11-0 run and the Duke lead is cut to 9 points, 53-44.

Even though his sizeable lead has been whittled to 9, Coach K doesn’t appear nervous at all, he simply starts pointing a lot more then he does when they have a large lead. He motions towards Dionte Christmas as if to say, “Him, stop him!”

At the 7:13 mark it finally feels like a Temple home game. This is like a boxing match where the favorite loses support because the fans just want to witness an upset. The Owls have cut the lead to 8 points and Duke is yet to score. That is until Scheyer up fakes a defender and gets a foul call on his way to the hoop. Drought over, Duke fans exhale.

Duke goes into clock killing mode and Temple doesn’t have enough balance in their attack to stay in it. This game’s a wrap.

Note to Sam Rubenstein: Don’t wear a Giants jersey at the Wachovia Center unless you’re ready to get gully in the stands. A ruckus breaks out with 2:24 to play in the game. I’m not entirely clear what happened but I saw a few guys in Shockey jerseys being escorted from the building by security as the section cheered.

Post game:The press conference had both coaches showing a seemingly honest and very mutual respect for one another.

Coach K also recalled fondly his battles with John Chaney, referencing one of Chaney’s greatest assets – the ability to control players other programs refused to admit. “It seemed after every Christmas, the holiday, not Dionte Christmas, he would have another 7-footer on his team, another 300-pound 7-footer!”

He also had some glowing words for Christmas, and this time he was speaking about Dionte, who finished with 23 points and 7 rebounds. “He’s a terrific player. He struggled in the first half but you knew he was going to get it going. I told my assistant coaches, look out, he’s going to get 20 in the second half.”

The final score of the game was Duke 74-64. While far from a blowout, even down 8 Duke still didn’t seem that vulnerable against a limited Owl attack. However, the question remains, is this indicative of the Owls’ potential, or the Blue Devils’ limitations?