Feb. 7, 2006
PHILADELHPIA (AP) - Kyle Lowry was a high school star in Philadelphia, so he went to Villanova understanding the Big 5 rivalries a little more than his out-of-state teammates.
Problem was, most of his appreciation came from watching on TV instead of the bleacher seats inside the famed Palestra.
"You heard about it all the time," Lowry said of the arena on the University of Pennsylvania campus. "It was always sold out in here so I couldn't get tickets."
The game was sold out again, only this time Lowry was one of the star attractions instead of watching from the outside.
He jump-started a sluggish offense with 17 of his 25 points in the second half, and Randy Foye and Allan Ray each had 14 points as the fourth-ranked Wildcats beat Saint Joseph's 71-58 on Tuesday night to win the coveted Big 5 title.
"The Big 5 is unique and different from anything around the county, so it was just fun to be out there in this kind of game," Lowry said.
These schools played the very first Big 5 game on Dec. 14, 1955, and the culmination of a yearlong celebration of the city series saw a thrilling start to the next half century.
After a lackluster start that saw them shoot 30 percent and trail by 12 points at halftime, the Wildcats (18-2) came out running, trapping and scoring at such a rapid rate that Saint Joseph's (10-10) must have felt like it was playing a different team.
Lowry scored the first two baskets of the second half, and when suffocating defense forced a turnover and led to a fastbreak dunk by Ray, the Palestra, which holds 8,700, exploded like there were 20,000 fans stuffed inside. Another turnover led to a dunk by Shane Clark and the Wildcats were within 34-32.
Lowry - the former sixth-man spark plug - converted a three-point play that finally gave the Wildcats the lead, 39-37. Dunks by Lowry and Will Sheridan capped a stunning and dominating 21-3 run that turned this one around for good.
"We knew when they came back it would be with a vengeance and we weren't ready for it," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said.
The scrappy Hawks did get a 16-point deficit down to 10 with 1:36 left after Abdulai Jalloh's layup, but when the Villanova fans chanted "N-I-T" it was easy to realize that might be the best Martelli's team can do this season.
"We crumbled a little bit mentally more than anything else," Martelli said. "We've got to find out the reasons and work on them."
Villanova played without shooting guard Mike Nardi, who has tonsillitis. Nardi also was tested for mononucleosis.
Villanova won all four Big 5 games for its 17th series title and first since 2000-01, while the Hawks went 3-1.
Only three city series championships had been decided when both teams were unbeaten in the final game: The Hawks won in 1955-56 and 1979-80, and Temple defeated Saint Joseph's in 1987-88.
"It definitely wasn't a goal for us," Ray said. "We didn't sit back and say we wanted to win the Big 5 championship. It's just something that comes."
Sheridan finished with 10 rebounds and the Wildcats shot 68 percent in the second half.
Chet Stachitas scored 19 points for the Hawks, while Jalloh had 15 and Dwayne Lee 11. The Hawks shot 50 percent in the first half and 25 percent in the second.
Several former players from both teams who played in the first Big 5 game were honored, and so were other players and media members from the last 50 years.
What makes the Palestra so unique for Big 5 games is that the split loyalties always have at least half the building rocking, bringing out the best of the unquenchable spirit of each side's student section.
"That was an old-fashioned split the house like we all remember and that was a great way for the 50th anniversary to be played. It was cool," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Lee and Stachitas - the two seniors who were part of the Hawks' run to the NCAA regional final two years ago - each hit two 3-pointers to take the 34-22 halftime lead.
The series has become increasingly lopsided with Villanova winning seven of the last nine games against the Hawks.