For the third straight time in a winning effort, Temple was unable to amount a double-digit lead at halftime. However, thanks to the efforts of an unlikely offensive hero, the Owls picked up their seventh win.
The Owls (7-1) knocked off the Towson Tigers (4-6) 72-61 behind a career high 20 points for senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson added six assists, the third-straight game the forward has led the team in assists.
“Rahlir was absolutely terrific with those six assists,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He made a lot of mid-range jump shots. I have been saying for a while that he needs to make a lot of those shots and he did tonight.”
Hollis-Jefferson went 9-for-16 from the field.
“If I find guys open and they are making shots, those are easy assists for me,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
When Hollis-Jefferson began his career at Temple, his mid-range shot was one that needed improvement. As he plays out his senior season, he has become a vital part of Temple’s offense.
“I have been working on mid-range for the longest time,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Just hard work over the summer and putting in time in the mid-season.”
“[Hollis-Jefferson] is so low-maintenance and he is a wonderful man and his family deserves a lot of credit because he is a great human being,” Dunphy said. “He has helped us win a lot of basketball games over the years.”
Both teams were coming off games against ranked teams. The Tigers lost 46-40 against No. 15 Georgetown in its previous contest while Temple was downed 90-67 by No. 2 Duke at the Izod Center last Saturday.
“We are thrilled to get the win,” Dunphy said. “There is nothing pretty about this, and we have done that a number of times, but we will take it.”
While the win moves Temple to 7-1, the players agreed with Dunphy’s assertion about the win.
“We played bad,” redshirt-forward Scootie Randall said. “There are a lot of things I know we can do better and as a leader that is what you expect.”
Towson lost despite a strong performance from Jerrelle Benimon. The junior forward scored a career high 30 points, with 15 coming in the second half. The Owls used different match-ups to try and defend Benimon, rarely having success against the 6-foot-8-inch big man.
“Benimon is a hard guy to guard,” Dunphy said. “We lost him twice on screens across the lane… but I thought for the most part, and this is going to sound crazy, we had containment. He is a tough guy to guard and I think he played as hard as anybody I have seen and competitively as anybody I have seen and I was very impressed with him.”
“I was admiring him all game, he is a heck of a basketball player,” Dunphy added.
Temple was outrebounded 42-40, something aided by Benimon collecting 18 rebounds. The inside game is one that the Owls have been struggling with all season, often undermanned and undersized.
While Hollis-Jefferson has hit his stride lately, the Owls used to seeing their name at the top of the box score have been struggling. In his last five games, Randall is 6-for-25 from beyond the arc. Randall was held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season.
“I’m fine, there just comes a point in time where those shots aren’t going to fall so you have to help your team out another way,” Randall said.
“I have been playing basketball all my life,” Randall said. “There are going to be three, four, five games when those shots don’t fall. You can’t let yourself get frustrated.”
Senior guard Khalif Wyatt, the team’s second-leading scorer on the season added 11 points. The guard turned the ball over twice, one of which came on a play in which Dunphy said didn’t need to be made.
With little over three minutes left in the game, Wyatt had the opportunity for a break-away layup that would have stretched the Owls’ lead to 17 points. However, he passed the ball back to a cutting T.J. DiLeo for what would have been the graduate student’s only points on the night. The pass was off the mark however, and the lead remained at 15.
“Really it was a magnanimous gesture to give the layup to one of his teammates, but that was not the time,” Dunphy said. “You have to finish that play. The gesture was great, the timing was suspect.”
While the team’s leading scorers combined to shoot 7-for-27 from the floor, Dunphy said he was not concerned with their production going forward.
“These are long seasons, there are going to be stretches when you are knocking shots down and times when you are not,” Dunphy said. “If you are a shooter and that is what you do you need to remain that way. If we end up with nine threes attempted by Scootie Randall and Khalif Wyatt and they are all good looks I will be happy.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.