Dionte Christmas stepped to the foul line shortly into the second half of Temple’s game against Saint Joseph’s Thursday.
Usually a safe bet from the line, Christmas’ two shots both clanged off the rim.
Christmas is struggling and so are the Owls.
The Owls dropped their third straight game, 92-76, to the Hawks at the Palestra. During that three-game stretch Christmas, the leading scorer in the Atlantic Ten Conference, has shot 11-of-43.
That’s 25.6 percent.
“Good players have streaks like this,” Christmas said. “I just got to bounce back from it. Our last three games are big. I definitely have to come back stronger and more aggressive.”
Just over a week ago, the Owls owned a four-game winning streak. Despite playing with an injured left hand, Christmas averaged 24.8 points as the Owls (11-15 overall, 5-8 A-10) separated themselves from the bottom of the A-10 standings.
The Owls shot 56 percent in those four wins and 48 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
But as the Owls have discovered all season, when those jump shots fail to fall, they struggle to score. With 6-6 Dion Dacons their most skilled post player, the Owls have trouble pounding the ball inside.
And against 6-8 Rob Ferguson, 6-9 Ahmad Nivens and 6-10 Pat Calathes, the Owls again found that task to be difficult.
The Hawks (17-10, 9-4) owned the interior Thursday. Nivens notched his third double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Ferguson scored eight points.
But the talk of the night was Calathes.
The junior forward led all scorers with 27 points. He reeled in seven boards while dishing out seven assists.
Calathes has the build to drive to the hoop, but he’s also a sharpshooter. He hit all four of his attempted treys.
“Calathes was unbelievable,” Dunphy said. “His line is fantastic. He’s getting to be as good a player as there is in the area, let alone the Saint Joe’s team. He’s been great.”
The Owls opened the game with a dunk by Mark Tyndale, who had averaged 23.9 points in the last seven games. But Tyndale attempted just one more shot the remainder of the first half.
“The defense didn’t give me too much room,” Tyndale said. “So, I had to take what the defense gave me. I didn’t want to run anybody over – I had one foul early in the game. I didn’t want to commit a charge or anything like that.”
Tyndale said he was more aggressive in the second half, when he scored 16 of his 18 points.
Temple came up with only two offensive rebounds in the first stanza, but hung tough. The ciy rivals exchanged the lead three times in the first eight minutes. With 8:20 left, the score was tied at 21.
That’s when Calathes began extending his range. He drained three pointers on back-to-back possessions. He then hit two free throws to pad the Hawks’ lead to 29-23. In that stretch, he scored eight consecutive points for the Hawks.
Dacons then performed his own gig from beyond the arc, hitting two treys to pull the Owls within 31-29.
That’s as close as the Owls would come.
The Hawks finished the half on a 7-0 run and opened the second half by scoring on nine straight possessions. The 20-4 run put the Owls to bed.
“Obviously, we need a lot of work,” Dunphy said. “But the good part for us, is [that] we get a chance to go right back at it in less than 48 hours against a good Charlotte team.”
The Owls have lost 10 of their last 11 games against the Hawks. The loss also clinched a losing regular season for the Owls, their first since John Chaney’s inaugural season, 1982-83.
NOTEBOOK – By Christopher A. Vito
Coming off the bench is as unfamiliar to Christmas as starting a game is for DaShone Kirkendoll.
But both players found themselves in unlikely positions last night when the Owls took the floor of the Palestra against Saint Joseph’s. And neither found his stroke.
Christmas, who sat out the first five minutes, was limited to just 10 points. Kirkendoll played only six minutes, hitting 2-of-4 from the floor for five points.
Dunphy said “a hiccup” earlier this week led to benching Christmas.
“That kid has as much zest for the game as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Dunphy said of Christmas. “I’m kind of a stickler for perfection and, while I don’t expect it, I want the attempt made all the time.”
It’s been quite a while since Christmas watched the tipoff from the bench. In fact, that last occurred against St. Joe’s in the semifinals of last season’s A-10 tournament in Cincinnati.
As for Kirkendoll, he had never started a game prior to last night. The junior was excited but treated it like any other game.
“I went about it normally, but just that I was coming in earlier than I normally do,” Kirkendoll said.
Prior to last night, Dunphy had used only two variations of his starting lineup – one with Mark Tyndale out due to academic ineligibility, and another featuring the guard seven games into this season.
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION
At Lower Merion High in Chester, Pa., Ryan Brooks and Garrett Williamson worked together to win a state championship last season.
Now at opposing Big 5 schools, Brooks earned some bragging rights with a second-half steal off his former high school teammate, which he followed with a dunk at the other end of the floor.
The play – one of just a few Temple highlights – was “special,” Brooks said, but Williamson ultimately got the upper hand.
“We had a laugh and a few words for each other when we’re out there and after that [dunk]. It’s good to be on the same court together,” said Brooks, who finished with five points and two steals.
Less publicity was made of Dunphy’s latest game at the Palestra, but last night’s loss kept the coach winless in his two trips back since leaving Penn. …The Hawks’ student section took some of the edge off the deflating loss with some interesting rollout signs. One read, “What’s so Fran-tastic about losing?” taking a jab at the Owls’ coach.
John Kopp and Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.