Cross: Defense reaches new low

No Dunphy-led Temple team has allowed more points per game.

Evan Cross

Evan CrossFour years ago, in the 2009-10 season, Temple allowed fewer points per game than all but two Division I teams in the country.

That team, led by Lavoy Allen, Ryan Brooks and Juan Fernandez, allowed 56.8 points per game. The Owls finished 29-6, went 13-1 at home and won the Atlantic 10 Conference title. Although Temple lost to Cornell in the first round of the NCAA tournament, that team was one of the best teams Temple’s had in recent history.

Since then, the Owls have regressed on defense from season to season. With the exception of a 1.6 point improvement from 2011-12 to 2012-13, the team has steadily allowed more points than it had the season before.

That drop is culminating this season. Temple is allowing 77.8 points per game, which ranks last in the American Athletic Conference. Only one team, Rutgers, is within five points of that mark.

The Owls’ defense has performed so poorly that despite being fifth in the conference in points scored per game, they’re ninth in scoring margin. They are third in field goal attempts allowed but seventh in converted field goals allowed. Temple allows opponents to shoot 46.1 percent from the field. In the past three games, Temple has given up 85.3 points per game to Villanova, Southern Methodist and Houston, teams who shot a combined 53.6 percent against the Owls.

A major reason Temple struggles on defense is that the big men aren’t up to snuff with teams of the past. The 2009-10 Owls had Allen, a power forward, and center Micheal Eric, both known for their defense. Right now, Temple has four active frontcourt players: redshirt-junior Anthony Lee, sophomore Devontae Watson, freshman Mark Williams and redshirt- junior Jimmy McDonnell.

Lee, a natural power forward, spends much of his time playing center, a position he’s not suited for. Watson and Williams are young players who have shown flashes of good play – Watson, in particular, just had the best game of his collegiate career, scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds versus Houston. However, both players are still improving and wouldn’t play as much if there was a more polished option on the team. McDonnell is fundamentally sound but doesn’t have the physical skills to match up with the average D-I frontcourt player.

Those four account for 47.1 percent of the team’s rebounds. The Owls grab 35.8 rebounds and allow 38.7 per game. They are last in the conference in both of those categories. Two of the Owls’ leading rebounders this year are guards – redshirt-senior Dalton Pepper and sophomore Quenton DeCosey – although that has a lot to do with the amount of minutes they play.

It’s no coincidence that a big drop in defensive production came when Allen graduated and left for the NBA. Temple went from allowing 62.5 points per game – tied for 37th in the nation – to allowing 69.5 points per game, ranking 239th in the country. Meanwhile, Allen made his name in the NBA by frustrating Kevin Garnett in the 2012 NBA playoffs.

It’s not easy to find someone like Allen – he’s one of the best players in program history and one of two former Owls playing in the NBA. Dunphy’s teams have made up for the loss by scoring more points to make up for surrendering more points. The team is scoring 2.4 more points per game this season than the Khalif Wyatt-led Owls of a year ago. However, they’re allowing 9.4 more points per game than last season’s team.

All the frontcourt players have eligibility remaining for next season and the team will gain two new players in transfer forward Jaylen Bond and incoming freshman forward Obi Enechionyia. The addition of two talented players and the maturation of Watson and Williams should improve the team’s defensive play. After all, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Evan Cross can be reached at or on Twitter @EvanCross.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.