Dionte Christmas entered his sophomore
season an enigma to opposing teams.Sure, opponents knew the guard owned the tools necessary to become a great shooter. But his .281 shooting percentage from his freshman year signaled Christmas had yet to put everything together.
That’s no longer the case. Now, Christmas
is his opponents’ top priority.In a season full of adjustments, Christmas has had to respond to the defensive attention that comes with being the Atlantic Ten Conference’s scoring leader. And, after a little bump in the road, he’s done just that.
Christmas has broken the 30-point barrier
in three straight games, becoming the first Owl to accomplish the feat since Terence Stansbury did so in 1983.
The former Philadelphia Public League scoring champion in 2003-04 has recorded at least 20 points in a conference-high 14 games, including the last five.
“Hard work paid off and it’s showing right now,” junior teammate Mark Tyndale said. “He’s getting the opportunity to play and he’s doing a great job out there.”
Christmas’s hard work began during the summer when he practiced with two of coach Fran Dunphy’s former players – Ibrahim Jaaber and Mark Zoller. It intensified when opponents forced him into a funk.During a three-game stretch over winter break, Christmas shot just 26 percent and failed to score more than 15 points. Saint Joseph’s held him to a season-low nine points on 2-of-12 shooting.
“It was real frustrating,” Christmas said of the slump. “It was like, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ It seemed like I was forcing my game. Coach said I just had to calm down, let the game come to me.”
Since that stretch, Christmas said he works one-on-one daily with assistant coach Matt Langel. The two meet whenever Christmas has a spare moment, usually in between classes.
Langel has taught his student to utilize one- and two-dribble pull-up shots, as well as pump-fake moves. When double-teamed, Christmas has learned to drive and then kick the ball out to an open teammate.
“He’s got to improve on his mid-range game,” Dunphy said during the midst of Christmas’s struggles. “He’s a frenetic kind of guy. He’s not a poised guy yet. He’ll hopefully get a little bit better at that.”
Christmas isn’t logging the extra time for personal glorification. The first-year starter said he’s not worried about becoming Temple’s fifth A-10 scoring champ and first since David Hawkins captured the title in 2003-04. He just wants to get the Owls out of the A-10’s bowels.
“I’m just trying to win some games,” Christmas said. “I’m not even worried about a scoring title right now.”That’s not an easy task, especially now that he might spend Wednesday’s game at Richmond on the sideline. Christmas lacerated the webbing
between his third and fourth fingers on his non-shooting hand during the final minute against Duquesne Saturday.
The injury required 17 stitches. At 1-5 in the A-10 and losers of 10 of their last 12 games, the Owls (7-12 overall) are in need of a victory to jump-start their season.
Christmas said losing has been tough to swallow, especially since he believes the Owls are putting forth their best effort.
“To have a good shooting day and still come up with a loss is real frustrating,”
Christmas said after scoring a career-
best 34 points against Penn.
“It’s like what else can I do? But I left it out on the court and I’m pretty sure the rest of my teammates did too.” Still, Christmas said he knows he must continue to bring his intensity – the same demeanor that has him hyper for basketball at 6 a.m. His teammates feed off that.
“He’s just done a great job getting
us energetic and hyped up for the game,” said Tyndale, who also displays quite a bit of emotion on the court.
“He’s got a big mouth.”And as the A-10 has found out, he’s got a shot to go with it.”I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world,” Dunphy said.
“He’s a great guy and wants to win badly.”
Duquesne 96, Temple 92
Duquesne’s full-court press got the better of Temple, Saturday, as the Owls lost to the Dukes for just the second time in the teams’ last 13 meetings. The Owls turned the ball over 28 times, including
10 by Salisbery.
Despite their struggles, the Owls owned a double-digit lead midway through the second half, and held the lead up until Reggie Jackson connected for a three-pointer with 3:57 remaining to tie the game at 84-84.
The Dukes took a 90-89 lead with 1:14 left. Salisbery tied the score with a free throw, but the Owls committed two straight turnovers.
Salisbery dished out a career-high nine assists and Tyndale scored a personal-
best 27 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.