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St. Joe’s crowed champions at inaugural Big 5 Classic

The Big 5 runs through Hawk Hill

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at St. Joseph
Head coach Billy Lange has St. Joe’s off a 6-2 start with three consecutive wins over Sacred Heart, Villanova and Temple.
Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Saint Joseph’s claimed the inaugural Big 5 Classic championship with a 74-65 victory over Temple at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

A tradition unlike any other in college basketball, the Big 5 was transformed this season from its previous round-robin format to a pod/triple-header with the leaders challenging for the brand new Big 5 Classic title.

The Owls defeated Drexel and La Salle in of Pod 1 while the Hawks beat out Penn and upset Villanova in Pod 2 to set up the championship matchup.

Anthony Finkley fueled the Hawks offense early, notching the team’s first seven points as it pushed out to a 12-6 advantage by the U16 media timeout.

After both sides saw scoring droughts over four minutes, St. Joe’s finally pushed the advantage into double-digits 27-15 by the U4, and the Hawks went into the halftime locker room ahead 34-23.

To start the second half, St. Joe’s extended the lead out to 40-25. Temple scored then next 11 to tighten the gap to four.

Zion Stanford followed a run from Jordan Riley’s with four straight points of his own to put the Owls on an 11-0 run in total and cut the Hawks advantage back to within four.

St. Joe’s responded and built the lead back to nine on a momentum dunk from Rasheer Fleming.

After the two teams traded blows, Fleming and Cameron Brown extended the lead to 13 in favor of St. Joe’s with a pair of 3s by the final media timeout.

The Owls pulled back within seven, but the Hawks sank their free throws to put the game on ice.

On a night in which SJU’s leading scorers Erik Reynolds II and Xzayvier Brown struggled, Fleming was critical for head coach Billy Lange with a team-leading 22 points to go along with nine rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

For Temple, Riley and Stanford each managed career-highs. Riley, a Georgetown transfer, contributed 20 points and eight rebounds while Stanford, a freshman, added 19 points and nine rebounds.

“I’m excited for our University,” Lange said. “I know how important something like this is for thousands of other people and my ability to be with [this team] every day, that’s the thing I try and focus on.”

But the connections between the schools goes beyond just being members of the Big 5.

Temple’s second all-time leading scorer and current chief of staff Lynn Greer is the father of Saint Joe’s junior Lynn Greer III..

Although the Hawks and Owls took center stage for the title game, the other four schools faced off earlier in the day. Drexel upset Villanova 57-55, and La Salle edged Penn 93-92 in overtime.

Under the new format with the Big 5 coming to a culmination with this tripleheader, the tradition of the Big 5 has shifted.

“I feel like [this format] was better because you’re really competing for a championship,” Stanford said. “It gives you those bragging rights at the end of the year.”

However with the finals at the Wells Fargo Center, some miss the legendary atmosphere of the Palestra.

“It was a great format,” first-year Temple head coach Adam Fisher said. “I love the Palestra, The Palestra’s fun. I thought it had some excitement, [but] this week was exciting with the games on Wednesday night. t’s a little bit like the in-season tournament that the NBA is going through.”