Sports

Aflakpui dominates inside to deliver Owls’ first conference win

Sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui had a career-high 13 points as Temple beat East Carolina 81-62 on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.

Sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui’s first shot attempt of the game was sent right back at him on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.

With East Carolina’s 7-foot-1-inch center Andre Washington defending the paint, it looked like Aflakpui was going to have a tough time scoring inside.

Washington finished with the three blocks, but Aflakpui got the better of the opposing big man, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in Temple’s 81-62 win.

“In the post, you’re going to have your shot blocked sometimes,” Aflakpui said. “I just decided to stick to the game plan and pump fake, get into his body and put it up there, so that’s what I did for the remainder of the game.”

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Owls to start American Athletic Conference play. Temple (10-7, 1-3 The American) had averaged 56 points per game in its three conference matchups, shooting 32.4 percent from the field.

Including Aflakpui, the Owls had five scorers reach double figures on Saturday. Redshirt-senior swingman Daniel Dingle led the way with 19 points, five rebounds and six assists. Senior forward Mark Williams and freshman guard Quinton Rose combined to go 12-of-15 from the floor for 27 points, and junior forward Obi Enechionyia added 12 points.

The Owls made 53.2 percent of their shots as they shot 65.4 percent from the field in the second half in the win.

“As a whole we’ve been passive and that didn’t lead to wins,” Dingle said. “I just figured I would go out there and be aggressive and me being a leader, one of the captains, I figured I’d set the tone. It just so happens we won today.”

As a freshman last season, Aflakpui averaged fewer than eight minutes per contest in 18 games. He was still not fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him his senior year of high school and forced him to wear a bulky brace on his leg last season.

Aflakpui had a career day against East Carolina as a freshman, scoring eight points and 10 rebounds, but he did not score more than six points or grab more than three rebounds in any other game.

He totaled his third double-double of the season on Saturday. Aflakpui scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on Nov. 11 against La Salle and tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds against the University of Pennsylvania on Dec. 3. His 13 points on Saturday were both a career and season high.

“He’s learning the game,” Dunphy said. “It’s still very new to him. He didn’t play as a senior in high school. He didn’t play a whole lot last year, so he’s still sort of new to the game. But he adds energy, enthusiasm and understanding of the game, that’s what we’re going to get even more out of Ern.”

Temple’s three-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s game was the program’s longest streak since January 2015 when the Owls lost to Tulsa, Southern Methodist and Cincinnati in consecutive games. The win helped Temple avoid its first four-game losing streak since 2014 and an 0-4 start to conference play.

“Losing three games  in a row, that’s not us,” Aflakpui said. “Getting this win, it boosts our confidence. We just gotta keep working hard, and we know that good things come out of working hard, so that pushes us to work extra, and I cannot wait for the next game.”

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue

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