Sports

After last year’s snub, Owls avoiding the ‘hurt’

After a lackluster road trip resulting in a tournament snub last year, the Owls are in a similar situation.

Obi Enechionyia and his teammates have not forgotten about the Owls’ two-game road trip last season.

In a span of four days in late February 2015, the Owls lost to Southern Methodist, then-No. 21 in the AP Top 25 poll, and Tulsa in their final multi-game road trip of the season.

“If we would have won one of those games, we would have made the tournament,” the sophomore forward said. “We had that on our minds and knowing that, we are playing on a different level than we did last year. That hurt last year.”

On Sunday night, the Owls kicked off their last regular season road trip with a comeback victory against Houston.

After trailing by 10 points with 11:05 in the second half, the Owls rallied with the help of senior guard Devin Coleman, who scored eight of the team’s final 14 points.

“I don’t think there is a time where we don’t feel comfortable on the court,” Enechionyia said. “We know we always have a chance to come back and win it.”

The Owls were also aided by Enechionyia, who scored a career-high 26 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.

“My shot was going down,” Enechionyia said. “I felt pretty good. At the start of the game, I hit my first shot and after that, my confidence was high.”

In the team’s first 17 games of the season, Enechionyia scored double-figure points six times. The sophomore has scored 10 or more points seven times in the team’s last eight games while averaging 15.4 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s so important to what we do,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s changed in his mindset. I think he has been really focused over the last three weeks.”

Tonight, Enechionyia and the Owls will complete their road trip with a game against Tulsa.

In the team’s previous meeting at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 4, the Owls defeated the Golden Hurricane in overtime after trailing by 12 points in the second half.

A victory tonight would improve the team’s record to 8-1 against the Top 6 team in the American Athletic Conference.

“They are huge,” senior Jaylen Bond said of the road trip. “These two get a little separation within the league.”

In the previous meeting, Tulsa’s three starting guards combined for 60 of the team’s 79 points in the loss while shooting 23-of-49 from the field.

“We had trouble shutting down their guards,” Enechionyia said. “They didn’t play much inside. Most of their scoring came from their guards, either from the perimeter or driving to the bucket. If we can shut them down, we can go on runs and that can make a difference in point differential.”

Enechionyia said the Owls need to improve their defense of Tulsa’s guards. Junior Pat Birt and seniors Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard all average more than 12 PPG.

“Our help-side defense wasn’t as good as it should have been,” Enechionyia said. “If our guards can stay in front, even if they get beat once, our help side defense can keep them from scoring.”

A win Tuesday would improve the Owls’ conference record to 12-3 with three games remaining. Last season, Temple went 13-5 in conference.

The Owls, who are in first place in the conference, have won six of their last seven games, including their last six conference games. The Owls lone loss in that stretch came last Wednesday against No. 1 Villanova.

“Everyone is locked in,” Enechionyia said. “We all know how good of a team we can be and what we need to do to help our chances of getting in the tournament. That’s our main goal.”

Michael Guise can be reached at michael.guise@temple.edu or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.

Julie Christie

can be reached at julie.christie@temple.edu
Or you can follow Julie on Twitter @ChristieJules
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