The Temple Owls awaken at five in the morning to practice. Their coach is a tough, loquacious street guy who could spot Jesse Jackson two slogans per primary—Winning Is an Attitude; Be the Dream—and whup him going away. Temple, located in Philadelphia, plays in a conference called the Atlantic 10, located somewhere in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for all anyone knows who has tried to find an alternative on television to the Big East. And sometimes the Owls are nagged by a member of the Temple board of trustees who also happens to be the richest man in show business. "You guys shoot as if the target is moving," Bill Cosby told them one night in the locker room.
No longer, however, can Temple be regarded merely as another quaint, workaholic outfit living off its storied names (Guy Rodgers '56, Hal Lear '58, Dr. Cliff Huxtable '??) and a recent reputation for turning up every year in the NCAA tournament.
Last week, when they journeyed to Las Vegas, the previously unbeaten Owls (14-0) not only outwaited, outpatterned and outplayed the deeper, more athletic UNLV Runnin' Rebels, they also unleashed a freshman of such tender brilliance and luminous skill that to expect anything less of him than sudden stardom would, in this city of stars, have been folly indeed.
Mark Macon is the Temple kid's name, and against Vegas he put it in lights—19 points, five rebounds and controlled passing, not to mention one-on-one juke embarrassments. He played, in the words of UNLV assistant coach Tim Grgurich, "like he was on cushions in the air." The 6'5" Macon did everything, in fact, except win the game for the Owls. He might have succeeded in that, too, if, with two seconds left, he hadn't let a desperation three-quarter-court lob pass fly through his hands. He was supposed to catch it, whirl and fire in a 25-foot miracle, or so said his coach, John Chaney. Wait a minute, Coach. You mean that was actually a set play for Macon, a. freshman? "Who else?" said Chaney.
Instead it was the Rebels' own miracle play, a 12-foot jumper by Anthony Todd just seconds earlier, that gave UNLV its only lead of the game since the opening basket—and the 59-58 victory. And that result might never have eventuated if, another few seconds earlier, Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian hadn't second-guessed himself in midscream and decided against calling a timeout after a missed Temple foul shot.
Rather than face one of the confusing Owl zones that had silenced UNLV's half-court offense all afternoon, Tark immediately realized the only way he would beat Temple was to have his guys run before the Owls could stop and think. At that point the Vegas meal tickets, Jarvis Basnight and Gerald Paddio, were out of the game, with five fouls and muscle cramps, respectively. Of the five Rebels on the court, four hadn't even played basketball last season and the fifth had been in junior college. And so Tark told his school of little sharks to keep moving, and Todd, a transfer from Lamar, stuck the winner over Temple's bulwark rebounder, Tim Perry.
"I thought he'd miss; he'd been missing all day," said a chagrined Macon. (Actually Todd hit 3 for 6.) Owl guard Howard Evans was more bitterly accurate in his assessment. "We let a nobody beat us, just like last year," Evans said.
In last season's edition of what has almost instantly become a wonderful rivalry full of color and contrast, Vegas had nipped Temple 78-76 in the season-opening NIT when Paddio, then just another juco transfer, nailed seven three-pointers, including the winner at the buzzer. But that Vegas contingent was ranked No. 1 much of the season and made the Final Four; this edition has more guts and character than famous names. Seventeen and one after Sunday's win, they're yet another nifty example of the dog-eyed Tarkanian's dogged defensive teachings.
In truth, the Rebs had no business winning this game, and the reason was Macon. He essentially controlled the proceedings by himself. Imagine, now, an 18-year-old in his first game against a Top 20 team, with 19,000 Vegas Gucci-boosters at Thomas and Mack Center cackling all over him.
Even Macon's lackluster shooting—he missed 13 of 22—didn't diminish his performance. After the Rebels rallied from 12 behind to 47-49, he stripped Paddio clean for a fast-break layup with 8:08 left to play and followed with two more buckets, one off a creative juke move. When a pair of Vegas three-pointers cut the Temple margin to 58-57, the Owls got the ball to Macon one last time to make the game-clinching play. He almost did, drawing the defensive attention before delivering a sharp entry pass to reserve center Duane Causwell, who was fouled with 17 seconds left. "The play we wanted," said Chaney.