Temple came in to the Pavilion to face its Big 5 rival Villanova boasting a 5-0 record for the first time since 1987, but had yet to be challenged. The Wildcats, who were 4-3 at tipoff, and resembled the first team the Owls played to date that came into the contest with a winning record.
For Temple, the offensive display was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Owls attempted 34 field goals, 17 of which were of the three-point variety. Other first half anomalies included senior guard Khalif Wyatt shooting 1-9 from the field while senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson dished out five assists, equaling his total from the past three games. Where Temple’s biggest deficiency came, was inside, as they were out-rebounded 18-10 on the defensive end and surrendered a 51.9 shooting percentage to the Wildcats, good enough for a four-point halftime lead. The Owls’ team that took the floor in the second half, looked remarkably different.
“We didn’t do a very good job on offense in the first half, obviously we didn’t do a very good job on defense either as they shot 50 percent,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “Our shot selection led to some easy baskets for them. It didn’t look like we were very together in that first half.”
Temple opened up the half with an 18-2 run, while Villanova didn’t hit a field goal until the second period had more than halfway expired and they had already accumulated six turnovers. With eight minutes remaining in the game, the Owls were shooting 15 percent better from the floor, and 13 percent better from the field than they had in the first half. At the same point, Villanova was 2-12 from the floor. When Temple took a 52-39 lead however, the Wildcats drew closer with back-to-back three pointers coupled with defensive stops, bringing the lead back to seven points. It wouldn’t get closer the rest of the way, as Temple’s 76-61 win preserved their undefeated record.
“I’m hoping this is a sign that we can play better moving forward,” Dunphy said.
Temple earned its first victory in the Pavilion since 1990, something the players think could be a statement game early in the season.
“This is a big win for us,” sophomore forward Anthony Lee said. “Our coach was telling us during the week that we hadn’t had a win here since 1990. It was important for us to come up here and show up and prove that we could get a big win.”
Senior forward Scootie Randall and Lee led all scorers with 21 and 16 points, respectively. For Lee, the 16 points tied a career-high, the third time he has registered 16 on the year. The game however, did not come with all positives.
Lee registered two rebounds, neither of which came on the offensive end. After registering the lowest rebounding total of any starter, Lee acknowledged the rebounding total needed to improve.
Lee sat the last two minutes of the contest, a time when a coach usually elects to have a key rebounder in the game.
Wyatt, who started the game quietly, hit 3 of 7 shots from the field in the second half, good enough for 13 points on the night. Wyatt and Randall combined for 34 of Temple’s 76 points, and 28 of its 61 shot attempts. While the team’s two leading scorers need to shoot to score, Dunphy recognized a need for better shot selection.
“I got on Khalif and Scootie a little bit because they are veterans and they didn’t have the greatest shot selection,” Dunphy said. “There are some things we could have done better, but I do have a great deal of trust in them. They told me to be quiet and that they have it covered. So I listened to the both of them.”
The win against Villanova gives the Owls an undefeated record, and creates a matchup with another unbeaten this weekend, Duke. The second-ranked team in the country will meet the Owls at the Izod Center on Saturday looking for retribution from the Owls upset win last January at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I think this is another step in our progression as a team,” Dunphy said. “Through the first five games we did not play very well, we got wins, but we didn’t play our best basketball. I would like to think that after the second half of this game, it puts us in a pretty good position.”
Duke brings in a 8-0 record and has beaten the No.2, 3 and 4 teams in the country in Louisville, Kentucky and Ohio State, respectively. The challenge they bring to the table, is something Dunphy and the Owls look forward to.
“Now we have to get ready for a terrific basketball team and program on Saturdaym,” Dunphy said. “It will be a great opportunity for us and a great challenge, but we know how good they are.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.