Dionte Christmas had an unceremonious end to an otherwise spectacular sophomore season.
After leading the Atlantic Ten Conference in scoring last season at 20 points per game, Christmas was held to just seven points in the Owls loss to Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the A-10 Tournament last March.
Almost a year after that meager effort, the 6-foot-5 junior guard posted a career-high 37 points on 12 of 23 shooting while playing all 40 minutes of Temple’s 90-85 win over visiting Duquesne on March 5.
“When I hit a lot of shots like that, like I did today,” Christmas said after that game, “I think anything I throw up can go in that rim.”
That wasn’t the necessarily the case for Christmas in the final couple of games of the 2006-2007 season, when he appeared to run out of steam down the stretch.
But, statistically, it doesn’t appear that he is running into that problem this season as the second-seeded Owls (18-12) head into the A-10 Tournament, where they will take on No. 7 La Salle (15-16) in a second round match-up at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Whereas Christmas averaged 14.3 points on 30 percent shooting in his final six games last year, he scored 20.3 ppg on 47 percent shooting in the same span this season. He finished the season tied with Massachusetts senior Gary Forbes as the conference’s scoring leader at 20.3 ppg.
On top of his scoring output, Christmas and his “one-two punch” partner, Temple senior Mark Tyndale, both finished the season tied atop the A-10 in minutes played, spending 37.3 minutes on the floor per game. For Christmas, that’s about three more minutes than he averaged last year.
“I’ve been conditioning for this,” Christmas said. “I’ve been getting my body and myself mentally and physically prepared to play 40 minutes so I don’t think playing 40 minutes is really weighing on me.”
So, exactly how did Christmas manage to avoid hitting the wall that he ran into during his sophomore campaign?
“Just working out on a consistent basis,” he said. “Last year, I thought I was having a good season and I just stopped working out. I was kind of going through the motions. But this year, coach [Fran Dunphy] told me at the beginning of the year, ‘You can’t hit a wall.’
“So I set up daily meetings with the coach and assistant coaches. We’d go in and get a couple of shots and I’d run a couple of miles during the week, [and] do some extra lifting – thing like that,” the Philadelphia Lutheran Christian Academy product said. “I think that’s kind of helping me not hit the wall last year like I did last year.”
Outside of scoring, Christmas saw his numbers increase in other areas this season, including three-point field goals made, free throw attempts and rebounds.
The extra work that Christmas put in before and during the season has been a factor in his late-season success, Dunphy said.
“I’m hoping this is a result of him being as strong as he can be,” Dunphy said. “I’ll bet he’s been in as good of condition as he’s ever been.”
As a result of this improved condition, Dunphy has been more reluctant than ever to take his top scorer out of the game. Christmas played 40 or more minutes in eight games this season.
“First of all, he doesn’t want to come out and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to take him out because he’s always that threat,” Dunphy said. “Even if he’s not scoring they have to pay attention to him.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.
Also read: “A significant leap”