Atlanta The thin bench, the gimmicky defense and the frumpy curmudgeon of a coach have turned Temple's Owls into the darlings of the NCAA Tournament.
Opponents are the only ones who can't seem to find anything lovable about these guys.
John Chaney took his rumpled shirt, his loosened tie and his vexing matchup-zone defense to the cusp of the Final Four again Friday night, thanks to an 84-72 victory over flustered Penn State.
Lynn Greer scored 21 points to lead the Owls (24-12), who will play in the South Regional final Sunday against Michigan State, a 77-62 winner over Gonzaga.
"We've played them before," Chaney said, recalling a 60-59 victory two seasons ago. "I know they're tough, extremely tough. I'm just hoping we give them a good ballgame."
Anything seems possible for this 11th seed that has been as dominating and perplexing as any team in the tournament over the last two weeks.
The Owls have won their games by an average of 15 points. They built an 18-point halftime lead against No. 7 seed Penn State (21-12) and just like last week against Texas and Florida the second half was a matter of running out the clock.
"We do a great job of controlling the ball, and making teams play like we want," said Alex Wesby, one of three players to log 40 minutes for the Owls, who only play seven guys. "With good defense, we always know we'll be in the game."
Chaney made his fifth regional final in 19 years at the school based in the hardscrabble streets of north Philly, but the 69-year-old coach is still seeking his first trip to the Final Four. This might be the most unlikely group to make it. Temple lost seven straight in December, part of a stretch filled with injuries and the departure of two players.
"It would be a great feeling to be the first team to get him there," David Hawkins said. "Not just for him, but for us."
Jon Crispin hit a three-pointer to pull the Nittany Lions within 10 with three minutes remaining, but the Owls made 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch to ice the game. They shot 26-for-30 from the line.
Thus ended a nice run for the Nittany Lions.
Temple put this game away by outscoring the Lions 22-5 over the last 1112 minutes of the first half.
Crispin, who averaged 17 points in leading Penn State this far, was barely a factor, making just four shots and finishing with 12 points. His brother, Jon, had six points. Ivory led Penn State with 20 points.
Greer, the leader of Temple's four-guard lineup, went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line to improve to 49-for-50 this postseason. He also played 40 minutes. Center Kevin Lyde was a presence inside, with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Reserve Greg Jefferson had a career-high 15 points, and sparked Temple's first-half runaway.