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Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

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Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Drexel (5-5) at Temple (6-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
AF:
The Owls are a good team, maybe frustrating at times, maybe one-dimensional at other times, but they are a good team. All you had to do was watch their most recent game, a 20-point loss to top-ranked Villanova, to see that in full effect. Temple was down the entire game but climbed back in it to cut the deficit to seven at one point thanks to the hot shooting of Quinton Rose. The sophomore shot a scorching 9 of 12 overall, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. But Villanova shut down pretty much every other offensive threat from the Owls. And one man alone cannot stop that Wildcats squad. 

In fact, after watching 'Nova so far this season, I’m questioning what team will beat the Wildcats. But that is for my co-author Sean Kane to ponder. Let us focus on this week’s matchup for the Owls, and that is Drexel. 

These two haven’t faced each other in 10 years. In fact, almost exactly to the date. Back on Dec. 15, 2007, Temple beat Drexel 64-51 at the Palestra. 

I have written about Drexel for every Fastbreak Friday thus far this season. In fact, I’ve written about Drexel for nearly every Fastbreak Friday since I started co-authoring this column four years ago. And this year’s team is as confounding as one I’ve encountered. 

Last week, I picked them to beat Robert Morris, a team I felt they should’ve easily handled even on the road. But they didn’t. The Dragons lost by double digits. Earlier that same week, they faced La Salle at the Gola. As a mid-week game, it was not subject to my prediction but I would’ve gone with the Explorers at home. But once again, I would’ve been wrong. Drexel led wire to wire and won at La Salle, 72-70. It gave Drexel its third win in a row at the time and the senior Dragons became the school’s first class ever to beat La Salle twice at Gola.

So who to pick this week? Temple is good. I covered that Drexel is confounding. I’m going with the Owls. The loss to Villanova wasn’t pretty. But we could be seeing a championship Wildcats team, so I'll throw it out the window.  

Temple 72, Drexel 65

Mercer (6-4) at La Salle (5-6), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
La Salle is coming off its most impressive showing of the season — a 77-68 loss to top-ranked Villanova. It's not often you can point to a loss as an encouraging performance but that was exactly the case for the Explorers last Sunday. They had the lead at halftime and generally outplayed Villanova for the first 35 minutes of the game. If La Salle can duplicate that type of effort the rest of the season, the wins should start piling up. 

The Explorers had a full week to prepare for a Mercer team that won't be a pushover on Sunday afternoon. The Bears' four losses have come against UCF, Colorado, Tennessee and Memphis. And they beat Drexel by 19 in mid-November. That's the same Drexel team that won at La Salle a week and a half ago. 

La Salle doesn't lack for talent. That was on display against Villanova when B.J. Johnson, Amar Stukes and Pookie Powell combined for 49 points. The Explorers can play with anyone, it's simply a matter of attention to detail and bringing a consistent energy level each game. 

I like La Salle in this spot on Sunday. The combination of getting a confidence boost from the Villanova game, having a whole week to prepare and playing at home should be a winning formula for the Explorers. Mercer will put up a fight but in the end, I expect the Explorers' talent to prevail. 

La Salle 76, Mercer 70  

Maine (3-8) at Saint Joseph's (4-5), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
Coming into play with a 4-5 record, Saint Joseph's gets a golden opportunity to climb back to .500 with a home game against a Maine team that only has one win this season against a Division l opponent. This is a game the Hawks should win comfortably.

The absence of sophomore forward Charlie Brown continues to be a big storyline for Saint Joseph's. Brown is the Hawks' best player and has yet to play this season due to a preseason wrist injury. There is no official word on his availability against Maine on Sunday. On the surface, it appears this would be a good game for Brown to be eased back in, but Phil Martelli could opt to hold him out until the start of Atlantic 10 play on Dec. 30. Or he could be sidelined even longer than that. The only certainty is St. Joe's needs Brown back in the lineup. 

Senior guard Shavar Newkirk has done an admirable job of sparking the offense in Brown's absence. He had 18 points and six assists in last Saturday's loss to Temple and is averaging a team-best 16.7 points per game. Factor in senior forward James Demery (16.6 ppg) and freshman forward Taylor Funk (14.7 ppg), and the Hawks have a nice stable of scorers. This has the makings of an explosive lineup once Brown returns. 

With or without Brown, look for Saint Joseph's to collect an easy win against Maine on Sunday.    

Saint Joseph's 81, Maine 60

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
7-4
Amy Fadool: 4-8

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

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Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

BOX SCORE

In every play, there are protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains. And some of us are drawn to the heroes while others revel in the villains.

And in the latest act of the historic Villanova-Temple rivalry Wednesday night in North Philly, a well-known Villanova hero and loathed Temple villain left his footprint yet again.

But this time, he was joined at the hip by an emerging jersey and shorts-wearing hero from the Main Line and a new North Broad Street villain who drew his first taste of Temple blood.

Star junior point guard Jalen Brunson sparkled with 31 points on 11 of 16 from the field, including 6 for 10 from downtown, and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman scorched the nets for 27 points of his own as that duo led No. 1 Villanova to a thorough 87-67 beatdown of Temple at the Liacouras Center (see observations).

The victory extended the record Big 5 win streak to 22 games for the Wildcats, now 11-0 on the season. Temple fell to 6-3.

After the game, all eyes, lights, cameras and recorders were on the dominant twosome, and rightfully so.

“I was just able to make my shots,” said Brunson, whose 31 points Wednesday were a career high. “I tried to make the right play at the right time. They were taking away certain plays and certain passes, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”

That ruthless aggression was on full display in the first half when Brunson came blazing out of the gate. He scored 10 straight Villanova points in a 1:57 span to ignite a 15-1 Wildcats run that pushed an eight-point lead all the way to a 20-point lead.

On that 10-0 personal run, Brunson showed his shifty elusiveness by dazzling a Temple defender and the crowd with a spinning layup and then showing his range with two treys. As the half went on, Brunson was scoring with every blink of an eye. He finished the half with 22 points.

With redshirt junior Phil Booth, who entered averaging 12.7 points per night, limited with a virus, Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a feeling Brunson would take command of this one.

“He was incredible,” Wright said. “It’s really no surprise to us. He can do that every night, but we like to keep balance. With Phil Booth being out … I knew [Brunson] was going to be more aggressive. They did a really good job taking away our perimeter guys, so it forced somebody to go create shots.

“He made the shots tonight and that was the difference.”

The Liacouras Center is always hostile territory for anyone wearing blue and white, but especially so for Brunson, who spurned the Owls to sign with the Wildcats three years ago out of high school even though his father, Rick, is a Temple legend who starred under John Chaney in the early 1990s.

Temple fans haven’t forgotten and peppered Brunson with every word and name in the book on Wednesday, just as they did two years ago when he made his first trip to North Philly as a Wildcat. That game two years ago was his true freshman arrival as he dropped 25 points in a spectacular performance. He’s a Temple menace as he’s dropped 69 points on 23 of 33 shooting, including 13 of 20 from downtown in three games against the Owls.

“It is what it is,” Brunson said of the not-so-flattering words from fans. “I try to keep the same mindset throughout every game. Being aggressive, trying to set the tone defensively, tell my teammates and the younger guys that we make sure to play through the full 40 minutes.

“It’s being aggressive and just trying to be a killer. Tonight was just one of those nights I got it going.”

On to his partner in crime Spellman, who lit up the scoreboard in a variety of ways in his first exposure to this heated rivalry. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman torched the Owls for his 27 points on 11 of 14 from the field — 7 for 7 inside the arc and brilliant touch on 4 for 7 outside the arc. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps unlike Wright has ever had on the Main Line.

“It definitely helps to be around players that are as good as my teammates are every day,” Spellman said.  

“We know we need an inside presence, and we know he can do that,” Wright said of Spellman. “As we’re doing that with him, we’re working on footwork and we’re watching him. We chart our shooters and we said, ‘This kid is one of our best shooters. What are we doing?’

“We can’t disregard the fact he’s one of our best shooters. With Phil down tonight and losing (Collin) Gillespie, we said to him, ‘Yo, you gotta do this.’ I’m sure he’s been waiting for it. He’s never asked. But he showed he can do it tonight.”

The performances of both Brunson and Spellman are testaments to the rich depth Villanova has. Booth was limited and leading scorer Mikal Bridges had an off night with just seven points. He averaged 18.1 coming in.

Still, Villanova barely had to look back. Quinton Rose’s career-high 27 points guided Temple’s efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even his three straight threes in the first half that cut Villanova’s lead to seven and his subsequent shout for his teammates to "Wake up!" did the trick.

“They’re a team that just goes on some killer runs and they did that, obviously in the first half, which hurt us greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We got it back to seven in that first half and then they go on a 10-0 run that spaces them again. … You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it. Those runs are just devastating.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and Bridges wasn’t a dominating player here. He can be dominating. Phil Booth can be dominating. Tonight it was Brunson and Spellman. They’re just a really good basketball team.”

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer who’s seen it all in this game. And he said those quotes with an exasperated tone to his voice. His guys gave Villanova their best shot on this evening and still fell the way they did.

That right there should tell you just how good and scary this Villanova team is.