After a disappointing second game, the men’s basketball bench had its best performance so far this season in the Owls’ (3–0) 80–75 win against Delaware (2–4) on Sunday, Nov. 25.
The Temple bench was the difference in the game, outscoring Delaware’s by a margin of 22 to six. Graduate forward Jake O’Brien and redshirt-junior Dalton Pepper, transfers who have had to fight for playing time early, each had their best game of the season thus far. O’Brien shot 3-for-5 from beyond the arc and led the bench with 13 points in 19 minutes. Pepper had six points on two treys in 15 minutes.
“The depth for us was great,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “[O’Brien] coming off the bench, [Pepper] coming off the bench. It’s great to have this much depth and we’re working at managing it.”
The bench performance came after a virtual no-show against Rice on Nov. 17. In that game, Temple bench players combined to put up five points in 49 minutes. O’Brien hit a three-pointer and graduate guard T.J. DiLeo made two free throws. The Temple starters accounted for 72 of the team’s 77 points.
But the two transfers stepped up in game three against Delaware.
“[O’Brien] and [Pepper] are going to get more comfortable as the season goes on,” senior guard Khalif Wyatt said. “I think [Pepper] played his best game [against Delaware]. He was playing with a lot more confidence and was comfortable.”
“I think those two guys were more focused and more confident coming into this game,” redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall said. “I think with more and more people scoring, it takes the pressure off the [starters] to come through. I think they’re going to be great for us in the next stretch of games.”
O’Brien, a 6-foot-9-inch forward with an outside shot, has scored 18 of his 22 points so far this season from beyond the arc. He shot 2-for-4 from three on Nov. 13 against Kent State, 1-for-2 against Rice and 3-for-5 against Delaware. His .545 three-point percentage leads the team.
“[O’Brien’s] a valuable asset because he can step away from the basket and make shots,” Dunphy said. “His minutes will go up as well.”
“We have a lot of weapons on this team, a lot of talented guys,” O’Brien said. “When teams double down on them it frees me up for some open shots.”
Pepper has yet to assert himself in his first season of eligibility at Temple. After playing 23 minutes in the season opener against Kent State, he was on the court for four minutes against Rice. He shot 1-for-4 against Kent State and turned the ball over four times, and couldn’t get anything going against Rice.
However, Pepper was more aggressive against Delaware. He took a season-high six shots, including five three-point attempts. He had six points, three rebounds and an assist in 15 minutes.
“[Pepper] probably can be one of our best defenders,” Wyatt said. “He’s strong and aggressive and can get to the rim. Right now he’s hitting threes, but he can do a lot more. As the season goes on, I think he’s going to show [everybody].”
Dunphy said Pepper is still shaking off the rust of having to sit out last year after transferring from West Virginia.
“I think it’s one of the hardest things to do in all of college sports, doing what he did,” Dunphy said. “To be a player and being told you can transfer, but you can’t play next year, it’s a hard thing. You don’t feel a part of things. And he’s working through that.”
DiLeo continues to play significant minutes as the team’s sixth man. DiLeo had three points, three assists and a career-high four steals against Delaware. Though sophomore guard Will Cummings has made the start at point guard in the first three games, DiLeo has played better in more minutes.
DiLeo is averaging 4.7 points per game in 25.7 minutes while Cummings averages 3.7 points in 16.3 minutes. DiLeo averages more assists, rebounds and steals per game than Cummings, and has committed less turnovers in more minutes.
“We know what we’re going to get out of [DiLeo] each game,” Randall said. “He’s a very unselfish type of guy and wants to help the team win in whatever way possible.”
Despite the fact that the Owls are off to their best start since the 2000–01 season, Dunphy said Temple has to “get better at everything” before the upcoming two-week stretch when the team plays five games in 14 days.
“It’s great to win games, but it’s even better to win games when you’re playing well,” Dunphy said. “I’m happy to be 3–0, I’d like us to be playing a little bit better basketball right now, but we’ll take it and move on.”
The stretch begins tomorrow, Nov. 28, at Buffalo (2–5).
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.