The history of the Big 5 is littered with stories of unheralded players becoming unlikely heroes for a day. Probably the most famous was Saint Joseph’s guard Steve Donches hitting a 30-footer at the buzzer to beat Villanova in 1966, but there have been others through the years.
Now add Penn’s Jakub “Kuba” Mijakowski and Jake Silpe to the list, both of whom came up clutch in Penn’s 77-70 upset win over host Temple on Saturday, earning Steve Donahue’s Quakers at least a share of the Big 5 title.
Penn can win it outright by beating Saint Joe’s on Hawk Hill next Saturday. However, a loss would force them to share it with Villanova.
Presumably, by then the Hawks will learn not to leave Mijakowksi and Silpe uncovered as Temple did, which resulted in them hitting seven three-pointers—four by Mijakowski—as the Quakers’ 29-7 scoring advantage off the bench proved to be the difference.
In the process, they spoiled soon-to-be retiring Owls’ coach Fran Dunphy’s hopes of a final piece of the Big Five pie.
“We talked about it a lot,” said Dunphy, after the Owls could never dig their way out of a 35-25 halftime deficit in falling to 14-4. “If we could’ve gotten this win today, we would’ve shared it with Villanova and perhaps Penn.”
“Now obviously, Penn has this great opportunity. The thing that hurt us was we helped too much off a couple of their shooters and it cost us,” he said.
Particularly when Temple collapsed down low on Penn’s A.J. Brodeur, who then would kick it out to open shooters on the perimeter.
The chief beneficiaries were Mijakowski, a 6-foot-7 junior from Warsaw, Poland who’d played just 40 minutes and scored 17 points all season, along with Silpe, the starting point guard as a freshman, who has had to earn playing time since.
They combined for 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting, which may have come as a surprise to the Owls, but not the Quakers.
“Kuba gave us exactly what we all know he’s capable of,” said Brodeur, who scored 16 points while handing out five assists as the (11-6) Quakers snapped a four-game losing streak. “If you came into any of our practices, you would know why he played as much as he did today.”
“He’s the toughest guy I’ve had to defend in terms of catching and shooting,” added Brodeur.
“A.J. is correct,” said Donahue, who had mixed emotions about beating his mentor and good friend, Dunphy, for only the second time in his career. “If you walked in our gym and you watched him be the scout team’s player best player we can’t stop him.”
“I always come back saying, ‘Thank God they don’t have Kuba.’ I finally got smart enough to say, ‘We should use Kuba.'”
“I felt great out there,” said Mijakowski, who played 20 minutes and scored all of his 14 points before intermission, while Silpe’s nine all came in the second half.
Whenever Temple seemed poised to make its move in the second half, Silpe, Brodeur and Devin Goodman (15) had answers. Silpe’s final three-pointer made it 74-66 with 39 seconds left, killing the Owls’ desperation comeback hopes.
Furthermore, it also killed Temple’s hopes of being on top of the Big Five ladder. “It’s very disappointing,” said senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. who scored 14 but shot just 5-for-18 from the field, while fellow senior Ernest Aflakpui had a career-high 21.
“It’s something I wanted coming into college for Coach and for myself,” he explained. “But our ultimate goal is to win the conference title and get into the (NCAA) Tournament, so if you told me you’re not going to win the Big 5 but you’ll get in the tournament, I’d take it.”
By the same token, Penn’s goal is to win the Ivy League, but winning its first Big Five title since 2002 has to be pretty sweet.
“When you talk of Big 5 history, it seems Penn’s name hasn’t been brought up that much, unless when talking about which teams Villanova beat to win the title,” said Brodeur. “Finally being able to be in that spot and at least get a share of it is really special to our program.”
With a win over the Hawks, they’ll have it all to themselves. “I don’t necessarily feel the other four are disrespecting our guys,” said Donahue, whose first win over Dunphy came when Cornell knocked off Temple in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
“But I don’t know if they feel threatened by Penn basketball in the Big 5, so it is kind of something as competitors that really drives our guys.”