Two years ago, Temple fans would beg for seldom-used Sergio Olmos to be inserted when the clock approached zero and the men’s basketball team had the game in control.
On Saturday, the center walked off the Palestra hardwood to a warm ovation with 19 seconds remaining, the result of a strong performance against Drexel center Frank Elegar.
Olmos, whose play has been underwhelming throughout much of his three-year tenure, recorded 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks as the Owls topped the Dragons, 64-51, to even their record at 5-5.
“If we were giving out a game ball, we would certainly give it to Serge,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “. . . The key for us was Sergio Olmos today, because we got no help otherwise on Elegar. He was pretty much out there by himself.”
Dunphy said he was impressed with the focus of Olmos, who played a career-high 36 minutes, and credited that focus to Olmos’ preparation during film studies.
Olmos said he hadn’t prepared for the game any different than he has others, but felt he needed to make an impression after three straight sub-par games. Olmos had combined for just five rebounds and nine points in those contests and failed to record a block or a steal.
“I think I really needed this one,” Olmos said. “I was really down before this week, because I haven’t played so good. I think this will help me a lot.”
Olmos’ play helped lesson the effect that the struggles incurred by forward Lavoy Allen had on the Owls. The freshman, who had reached double-digit scoring the last six games, notched just two points and three rebounds while tallying four personal fouls. He totaled a career-low 10 minutes.
“[Allen’s] a young guy and he’s going to have games like this,” Dunphy said. “Thankfully, we had Serge ready to go.”
But during the first half, the Owls didn’t look ready to go, either.
The Owls opened up the game with an 11-2 run midway through the period. Guards Mark Tyndale and Dionte Christmas accounted for each of those points as the Owls took a 10-point lead, at 27-17, with 8:04 remaining. Christmas finished with a team-high 17 points.
Then, the Owls unraveled. Drexel (5-5) responded with a 14-0 run, holding the Owls scoreless for more than seven minutes. Chris Clark finally ended the Owls’ misery with a three-pointer to send them to the break trailing, 31-30.
The stretch featured a little bit of everything.
“I thought Mark had a couple of plays at the basket that didn’t go,” Dunphy said. “I thought Lavoy’s 15-foot jump hook was a foolish decision. How about Dionte Christmas’s behind-the-back pass? What, are you kidding? All he had to do was pick the ball up and throw it to Ryan Brooks or throw it to [Luis Guzman] and we would have been fine.
“I think we zone out sometimes. . . . Our offense led to their scores. We stunk on offense and then they finished down on the other end a number of times. We just got to do a better job of focusing.”
The Owls fixed that in second half, with Olmos and Tyndale fueling the way. Olmos tallied six blocks and eight points in the second frame.
Tyndale recorded six points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the second stanza alone. On the day, he had 14 points, eight boards, seven assists, four steals and a blocked shot. He had only one turnover.
Tyndale said he was looking for Olmos in the post and Brooks on the perimeter. He dished out two assists to Olmos and one to Brooks in the second frame.
“I think Serge did a good job of gathering himself in the lane and finishing at the basket,” Tyndale said. “I think he missed one in the first half. Coach got on him a little bit. In the second half, he played tremendously on the defensive end. . . . Ryan Brooks, he’s a big-time player.”
With 9:01 remaining, Temple led, 48-39, but scored just two points over the next three minutes, as the Dragons closed the gap to 50-47.
That’s when Brooks, who had 10 points, took over, scoring eight points in the final 5:38 as the Owls held off the rallying Dragons.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.