STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Sometimes, it’s not all about Christmas.
The men’s basketball team made a statement on Saturday night, as they defeated Penn State 65-59 at the Bryce Jordan Center. It was the epitome of a team effort as the Owls got their holiday season back on track with a reassuring win.
“Obviously you have to have a good team concept and I thought our balance was good,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought we defended well today which really helped us. And I think the younger guys in the first half really helped us maintain a little bit of a margin.”
It was a slow moving first half with both teams struggling offensively. Senior guard Dionte Christmas played just seven first half minutes, after picking up two fouls in the early stages of the game. He was planted next to his coach from the 15:58 mark, until the time he subbed back in at 7:03. He didn’t get what would be his first and only basket until there was 5:13 left in the game.
Senior guard Semaj Inge got the starting nod over junior guard Luis Guzman, and put Dunphy’s confidence to good use. He paced the offense with a career-high 19 points. He also dished six assists and ruffled the Penn State guards for a career best-tying four steals.
“With [Christmas] out of the game we had no choice but to make hard cuts and make good decisions with the basketball,” Inge said. “I think everyone did a good job, especially the young guys coming off the bench, just trying to stem the tide.”
Foul trouble also neutralized senior center Sergio Olmos, who was constantly substituted in and out of the game to avoid any further whistles. Still, he worked well in the paint to provide the Owls with eight points.
Penn State was fronted by sophomore guard Talor Battle who shot 6 of 15 for 19 points. After a relatively balanced first half, the Owls scurried into the locker room holding a 28-24 advantage, and playing arguably the best twenty minutes of their young season.
In the second half, the Owls utilized all of their weapons. Another dose of Semaj Inge helped tear a slim lead into a gaping one. He took the offense over sprinkling in three-balls and strong takes to the basket.
Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen, finally recovered from his injured thumb, showed why he has been sorely missed netting 11 points, and pulling in a game-high 10 rebounds. It was his third double-double of the year.
Junior guard Ryan Brooks was the Owls third double-digit scorer, finishing with 15 points. Down the stretch his three-pointers and free throws went a long way to securing the victory.
A three-pointer by Penn State senior guard Danny Morrrissey closed the gap to four with a 1:19 to play. However, the Owls managed to forge through the Lions ensuing press.
The Owls proved that they can win without the scoring abilities of Christmas, who has been bottled up in his last two games. In last Wednesday’s 68-52 loss to Miami (Ohio), he was held to just 11 points. The good news is, this time, the rest of the team responded.
“I think he’s learning and understanding that it’s not the critical mass that we need from him that is making shots all of the time. We need for him to play the total game,” Dunphy said.
“We have to play as a team and he knows he’s just a part of it,” he added.
The win snaps a nine-game home winning streak for the Lions. The Owls are now 4-3, while the Lions drop down to 7-2.
Temple gets a short break before they face No. 10 Tennessee on Dec. 13 at the Liacouras Center.
Dunphy hinted that Inge starting over Guzman would be a re-occurring theme…Freshman guard T.J. DiLeo’s fast break layup in the first half were his first collegiate points…Olmos, Allen and freshman forward Micheal Eric added three blocks each…The Nittany Lion was in attendance despite recent controversy.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.