There was nothing Temple fans wanted more than to be able to chant “I believe that we have won” at the end of the Owls’ season-opener on Friday night. When the duel between the Owls and Big 5 rival La Salle ended, the crowd got what it wanted.
With five seconds left in the game, sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. sealed the victory for the Owls when he made his last two free throws to put the Owls up by five points.
Alston got three steals and scored 10 of his 14 points in the game’s final 25 minutes to help the Owls earn a 97-92 victory in overtime at the Liacouras Center.
“I didn’t shoot well the entire game,” Alston said. “I was doing other things, but I wasn’t there offensively for my team. So I knew when overtime happened I had to bring it home for us.”
“I came here for this moment,” Alston added. “Friday night, the Big 5, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Alston also had four rebounds and did not turnover the ball in 39 minutes of action. His most important play of the game came with one minute and 35 seconds left in overtime.
He stole the ball from Explorers’ redshirt-sophomore guard Pookie Powell, and then took it to Temple’s basket to score a breakaway layup to put Temple up 92-85.
Alston got another steal with 14 seconds left in overtime when he pickpocketed redshirt-junior guard and forward BJ Johnson.
“I tried to spin and I guess he jumped it, got a steal and got a layup,” Johnson said. “From a defensive standpoint, he got a couple of steals that were costly for us at the end of the game.”
Temple had a six-point lead with 1:22 left in the second half, but redshirt-senior guard Jordan Price sent the game into overtime with five seconds left when he hit a deep three-pointer.
The Owls had a nine-point lead with 2:23 left to play, but could not make free throws to seal the game. Temple was 4-for-6 from the free throw line in the final two and a half minutes, while La Salle was a perfect 8-for-8.
“We as a team didn’t shoot it great at the foul line, which hurt us some but [I’m] very proud of our guys,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “It’s a terrific win for us. We’ll be happy about it for a few more hours then try to get ourselves ready to go for Monday.”
Temple went into the second half sitting on a 42-39 lead, and widened it to eight points at the 14:25 mark when a steal by Alston set up a 3-pointer by freshman guard Quinton Rose. A few minutes later, the Explorers brought it within two points on jumper by redshirt-junior center Tony Washington.
Temple shot a higher percentage than La Salle from the field and the 3-point line in the second half, but La Salle’s precision on the free throw line kept it in the game. The Explorers made 14-of-15 attempts from the charity stripe in the second half and converted 85.2 percent of their attempts for the game.
After Price’s shot to tie the game and Alston’s last-second heave missed the mark, Temple wasn’t worried. The team played overtime games against Cincinnati and St. Joseph’s in the 2015-16 regular season and went to overtime in the NCAA tournament.
The players were confident in their experience.
“I just brought the guys together and told them, ‘This is what we worked for,’” Alston said. “‘You know, we didn’t want it easy.’ Easy, that’s not us. We don’t want anything easy. So you know I just told them, ‘Stay together and let’s win it again for a second time.’
Alston was one of the six Owls who scored in double figures. Redshirt-senior guard and forward Daniel Dingle led the Owls with a career-high 21 points, senior forward Mark Williams scored 10 points and Rose finished with 12 points in his collegiate debut.
Junior forward Obi Enechionyia and sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui had double-doubles. Enechionyia added a career-high 14 rebounds to his 20 points, while Aflakpui collected 10 rebounds and had a career-high 12 points in 24 minutes of action.
Freshman guard Alani Moore also contributed in his debut, starting at point guard in the absence of senior guard Josh Brown and sophomore guard Trey Lowe. He scored eight points, had one assist and did not turn over the ball in 30 minutes.
La Salle had four players to finish in double digits. Johnson, a transfer playing in his first game for La Salle, led both teams with 23 points and Price followed with 22 points.
In the backcourt, Powell finished with 17 points and freshman guard Isiah Deas finished with 12 points.
The team has three transfers playing in their first year. Temple challenged the Explorers in their first game. The Explorers got outrebounded 47-35 and had nine turnovers.
Redshirt-junior forward and center Demetrius Henry fouled out in the second half and Washington fouled out in overtime, but La Salle coach John Giannini said that even before he lost two of his big men, his team wasn’t playing well.
“We have to get a lot better,” he said. “Really disappointed in our play, but not in effort. Just somehow we have to guard the ball better. We have to not panic in the back court and throw the ball to the other team for no reason.”
“Temple’s going to be good again,” Giannini added. “No surprise there. I thought they made some really hard shots to get the lead in the second half.”
The Owls’ next game is a Preseason National Invitation Tournament game on Monday at 7 p.m. against the University of New Hampshire at the Liacouras Center.
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Junior guard Isaiah Lewis was declared eligible to play by the NCAA before the game Friday, but did not dress due to an ankle injury, Dunphy said. …The team held a moment of silence before the game for former university president David Adamany, who died on Thursday at the age of 80. Adamany was the university’s president from 2000-06.