Coach Fran Dunphy can’t remember a time when senior forward Obi Enechionyia made late free throws to help seal a victory before Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
With 10.9 seconds left, Enechionyia made both ends of a one-and-one to put Temple up by three against Drexel. He then contested Dragons sophomore guard Kurk Lee’s potential game-tying 3-pointer. Enechionyia got the last of his five blocks to seal a 63-60 Temple (7-3) victory.
“We certainly need him to be great defensively,” Dunphy said. “He’s long. He’s fast. He’s athletic. We need him to be a very, very good defensive player and he should be able to guard both inside and out. He should be able to guard wing players as well with that athleticism.”
Unlike in Temple’s win against the University of Wisconsin on Dec. 6, both Enechionyia and junior center Ernest Aflakpui played down the stretch. In past games, the Owls had used four-guard lineups with Enechionyia at center.
Aflakpui stayed in the game until Dunphy replaced him with sophomore guard Alani Moore II with 12.3 seconds left. The Dragons were looking to intentionally foul to make a comeback attempt. Moore shot 82.1 percent from the free-throw line as a freshman, while Aflakpui shot 51.2 percent last season.
With 31.4 seconds left, Temple inbounded the ball after redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown collected the rebound off a potential go-ahead 3-pointer by Drexel senior guard Sammy Mojica. Drexel had a foul to give and used it after Brown grabbed the rebound.
On the ensuing inbounds pass, junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. got pressured by three defenders under the basket. He turned to his left and passed to sophomore guard Quinton Rose, who dished to Aflakpui for a layup. The basket put Temple up by four with 23.7 seconds left.
“We had fouls to give,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker said. “We wanted to foul. We knew we had to foul…It was a killer play.”
Drexel coach Zach Spiker https://t.co/DoCVjOBkxA
— Evan Easterling (@Evan_Easterling) December 17, 2017
“Ever since I’ve been making some free throws, teams haven’t wanted to foul me,” Alston said. “So they just try to double, send as many guys at me as possible. So I knew that I was going to be open on the left side. So when I saw the guys coming from my right side, I just turned left and [Rose] was open.”
Aflakpui was the only Temple starter to shoot more than 50 percent from the field. He shot 4-for-5 and scored eight points. Five other Owls scored eight or more points. Alston led with 12 points, but he shot 4-for-12 from the field.
After scoring a career-high 27 points on Wednesday against Villanova, which is ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, Rose started Saturday’s game 0-for-5 from the field. He finished 2-for-10 with five points and four turnovers.
Enechionyia finished with nine rebounds and eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. In his past three games, he has shot 4-for-25 from the field and 1-for-10 from 3-point range.
“[Enechionyia] is obviously struggling from the 3-point line,” Dunphy said. “We need him to be a better jump shooter than he is right now. I just talked to him a little bit in the locker room about how nobody works any harder at it. So it’s not an effort issue. It’s just getting more confident as to what you’re doing.”
With Rose and Enechionyia struggling, Temple received scoring from its bench. In the first 20 minutes, Temple scored 19 bench points, just six short of its season-high against the University of South Carolina on Nov. 30.
Sophomore center Damion Moore accounted for 20 of the 25 bench points in the Owls’ 76-60 win against the Gamecocks. Saturday’s effort was more balanced. Moore scored eight points, Moore II scored eight points and freshman forward De’Vondre Perry scored six.
With seven minutes, two seconds left in the second half, Perry dove on the court for a loose ball, secured possession and called timeout. The play led to an elbow jump shot by Brown. Perry has a defensive intensity that is hard to teach, Moore II said.
Last season, Drexel set a program record for 3-point attempts in a season with 741, which equaled an average of 23.9 attempts per game from beyond the arc.
Entering Saturday’s game, the Dragons took an average of 22.4 3-pointers per game. Most of their first-half points, however, came from inside of the arc. Drexel scored 24 of its 29 first-half points in the paint and finished with 40 points in the paint.
Starting forwards sophomore Alihan Demir and senior Austin Williams combined for 31 points. Williams had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Demir scored 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He passed to a cutting Williams for the game-tying dunk with 5:32 left.
Drexel led with 16:04 left in the first half and didn’t lead again until Mojica’s 3-pointer with 2:42 left.
Temple held Lee and Dragons junior guard Tramaine Isabell to a combined 5-for-21 shooting performance for 14 points. Lee entered the game averaging 13.1 points per game, and Isabell entered averaging 20.8.
“That kid Williams is a good player,” Dunphy said. “We knew that, and we just tried to play him one-on-one because of the other guys, because of how good Lee is, because of how good Isabell is and because of how good Mojica can get it going as well as a 3-point jump shooter. So we were just saying to ourselves, ‘Let’s see if we can limit those threes that they were going to make or try.’”
The Owls didn’t want another loss on their resume entering Friday’s road game against the University of Georgia. They had a 3-1 record during their homestand, with the only loss coming to No. 1 Villanova.
“Coach tells us every game has NCAA implications, and I knew that if we lost this one it’d be a tough time to make the tournament,” Alston said. “So I knew we had to pick it up and win this game.”
“We wanted to win bigger than this,” Alston added. “But I think we needed to fight this one out.”
All-time Temple great passes away
Marty Stahurski died Saturday morning at the age of 61. There was a commemorative moment of silence for Stahurski before Saturday’s game.
He played from 1974-78 and finished his career with 1,499 career points, which ranks 17th on Temple’s all-time scoring list.
Stahurski led Temple in scoring with 333 points during the 1974-75 season. He led the team in assists the following season. For three out of his four seasons, Stahurski led the team in free-throw percentage. He earned first-team Big 5 honors twice during his career.