- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- A fan fired the first shot early Friday morning, stoking an already inflammatory rivalry between Villanova and Temple.
Fortunately, the full Coke bottle hurled by the fan in the upper deck of the Liacouras Center landed harmlessly a few feet away from Temple's bench and head coach John Chaney. But at 12:08 a.m. -- less than three minutes into what certainly was a one-of-a-kind Midnight Madness -- the intensity of what has become a nasty Big Five matchup, took on a new level.
Ultimately, the shots fired by Villanova coach Jay Wright's troops hit their target -- the baskets -- as the Wildcats drubbed Temple in the season opener for both teams, 73-48. But the barbs continued after the game, from Chaney toward Villanova, and could stretch into the offseason when the two teams schedule their 2004 meeting on Villanova's campus.
But for now, a Villanova squad depleted by injuries and suspensions stemming from last season's phone access card scam, is off to California and then Maui, Hawaii. It left Temple's campus at 3 a.m., caught a few hours of sleep at a Philadelphia airport hotel, before catching a flight to Los Angeles on Friday.
And the Wildcats do so knowing they have given tremendous hope to a season, after what appeared to be a potential disastrous start.
The Temple-Villanova feud isn't new to Big Five fans, but this year's edition was extremely complicated.
The reason this game was played at 12:01 a.m. on the first day teams could play non-exempt regular season games was because Villanova agreed to play Temple on Nov. 21 in the spring. But then Villanova got word about its suspensions, and without asking Temple, tried to move the annual game to later in the season -- scheduling two Division III games in California (Nov. 21-22) on the way to Maui.
Villanova is playing in the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Monday and didn't want to go to Maui with a depleted roster. Junior forward Marcus Austin, senior forward Andreas Bloch, sophomore forward Chris Charles and sophomore forward Curtis Sumpter were all suspended for the opener -- whenever or wherever Villanova played its first game. Senior Derrick Snowden is also out with an ACL injury. (All but Sumpter sat out Friday morning's game. But more on that in a bit.)
Needless to say, Chaney was furious, balked and threatened to never play Villanova again.
It took a meeting over the summer at the home of Penn coach Fran Dunphy between Wright and Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw to solve the impasse. The sides agreed to play at 12:01 a.m., so Villanova could still head to the West Coast. Villanova would play one of the non-Division I games -- Saturday morning against the University of Redlands (Calif.) -- before heading to Maui Saturday night.
End of the discussion? Hardly.
During a golf outing earlier this summer, Chaney didn't want to stand next to Wright during a photo and was in Wright's face over how this scheduling situation went down. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint and Dunphy, yet again, had to cool the situation.
Fast forward to Thursday night, Friday morning, or whatever day you want to choose. Bottom line: it was late.
The crowd was absolutely electric. The place was packed with a capacity crowd of 10,206. Even Saint Joseph's All-American guard and local cult hero, Jameer Nelson, was courtside with a leather jacket and Celtics hat on saying, "I can't believe this. I'm just tired watching these guys play this late."
While the action on the court was fierce, there were scuffles breaking out all over the arena. Popcorn flew, cops and security personnel quelled verbal skirmishes. Thankfully, nothing evolved into all-out brawls.
Students filled the stands. Let's just say spirits were high at this hour. Temple fans wore body paint. Villanova fans came in by the bus loads from the Main Line campus.
And then, came the bottle.
Remember, the game was played at Temple. Yet, when the bottle halted things, Chaney made sure Wright was the coach who addressed the crowd.
Yes, the bottle appeared to come from the Villanova student section. But there was no way to tell if a Villanova fan actually threw it onto the court. Yet, Chaney walked to the center court, and while he initially appeared to be grabbing the microphone, instead he pointed at Wright to come over and talk to the fans.
Wright did, almost like the scolded student doing exactly what the teacher asks.
"Villanova fans, let's act with class like we always do," Wright said to crowd. "And protect the players."
Wright later said: "I did it because he asked me to. He said it came from our section. I didn't even see it. If anyone asked me to do that I would do that."
Added Chaney: "I was really upset about that. We have somebody in the house doing that and they were all Villanova people upstairs. I was concerned that our fans would retaliate. We don't have that kind of problem here.
"I don't know why you would do such a thing. I told the coach. I wanted him to say something to his crowd because the thing that I would have said would have made it worse. So I didn't want to say anything to them."
Oh yeah, the game.
It was played at a fevered pace with both teams playing almost too fast. Temple, a team that starts three sophomores and a freshman, to go along with senior David Hawkins, was simply not in sync. Temple also was playing without its big man, 7-foot-1 Keith Butler, who sat out with a bone bruise.
It made Hawkins try to be Mr. Everything. He did have one of the most unbelievable blocks you'll see this season (or any season), recovering to chase down Allan Ray and swat the ball from behind -- sending it sailing over the Temple bench and into the crowd. OK, so a foul was called. It was still impressive.
Hawkins also had a monster, one-handed baseline jam. He finished with 16 points in 39 minutes.
The statistic that stood out after 40 minutes was 30, that's right 30, missed 3-pointers by Temple, which went 10-for-40 from behind the arc.
"David got tired," Chaney said. "He never gets tired. But I couldn't afford to take him out because I had no one to replace him."
The Wildcats' guards, meanwhile, were sensational. Ray and Randy Foye each scored 20 points, and combined to make seven of the team's nine 3-pointers. Freshman point guard Mike Nardi, a near clone in looks and style of play as former Maryland playmaker Steve Blake, hit the other two 3s as the Wildcats went 9 of 18 on 3s. The team shot 72 percent (16 of 22) in the second half.
Villanova also got 14 points and nine rebounds in 37 minutes from Sumpter. Yes, the Sumpter who wasn't supposed to play because he was suspended for three games. And that's where there was a catch. Like the rest of the night, it was almost as bizarre as the scheduling.
Forward Jason Fraser is out with a stress fracture in his heel for the next three weeks. Fraser was dressed but wearing a walking cast on his left foot. He missed most of the preseason recovering from double knee surgery last spring to deal with tendinitis. Wright said the heal injury is unrelated to the knee surgery.
But, without Fraser, it left the Wildcats with only one forward -- Will Sheridan (four points in 40 minutes). And, according to Wright, the NCAA "mandates" that a team has to have enough position players to take the court.
"They go by size," Wright said of how the NCAA would judge who is a forward and who is a guard. "If I had said a 6-2 player is a forward, they probably wouldn't have let me do it. They said only choose between Sumpter and Charles. They said we had to choose one of them."
Wright said he didn't know Fraser was definitely out until Thursday morning. That's when Villanova called the NCAA and said it had to have either Sumpter or Charles eligible for Temple.
"I didn't want a little guy in there going inside and getting hurt," Wright said.
But apparently he is willing to take that chance for the game against Redlands and Chaminade on Monday in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Wright said that he wants to sit both Charles and Sumpter for the next two games and then bring back Charles for the second-round Maui game Tuesday and Sumpter for the third game on Wednesday. Sumpter would then be done with his suspension and Charles would be, too.
"There's no precedent for anything we're doing,'' Wright said. "This has been challenging. I spent so many hours dealing with this every day."
Wright then got dressed and headed for the airport. Meanwhile, down the hall, Chaney was still in his office as the clock neared 3 a.m. Earlier, Wright had said once the game was done that the scheduling controversy was "over. Honestly guys, it's not that big a deal.''
Not quite, when you listen to Chaney's parting shot.
"I didn't like it all," Chaney said of how the game was scheduled. "If it were up to me, we would have never played them again. Bill Bradshaw was the only one who convinced me to do it. But I was ready to tear this thing up. I would have never played them again. If it weren't for Bradshaw, John Chaney wouldn't play them again.
"Seems to me they had scheduled somebody else on our date. I live by my word and always have."