Defense needs to improve

HUA ZONG TTN
Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee (left) and senior guard Khalif Wyatt (right) rank No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, on the men’s basketball team in scoring. Lee averages 11.8 points per game and Wyatt averages 17.7 points per game. As a team, Temple averages 69.3 points per game, ranked ninth out of 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference. | HUA ZONG TTN
HUA ZONG TTN
Hua-Zong_Sports_0129_10-web Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee (top) and senior guard Khalif Wyatt (bottom) rank No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, on the men’s basketball team in scoring. Lee averages 11.8 points per game and Wyatt averages 17.7 points per game. As a team, Temple averages 69.3 points per game, ranked ninth out of 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 Conference. | HUA ZONG TTN

Despite coaching a team that’s ranked 11th in the Atlantic 10 Conference in giving up 65.1 points per game, Fran Dunphy said yesterday, Jan. 28, that his team’s defensive numbers have lapsed recently, but have been good overall.

In losing two out of its last three games, the men’s basketball team has given up an average of 78 points per game since Jan. 19. In their most recent loss to No. 9 Butler on Saturday, Jan. 26, the Owls gave up 83 points, the most since a 90-67 blowout to then No. 2 Duke on Dec. 8.

Temple (13-6, 2-3 A-10) allowed Butler (17-3, 4-1 A-10) to shoot 52 percent, including 42 percent from three, in the loss after allowing the University of Pennsylvania (3-15) to shoot 45 percent and 33 percent from three in a 76-69 win on Jan. 23.

Both of those numbers are higher than Temple’s season average of allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent per game, which ranks 10th in the A-10.

But the Owls have had defensive lapses this season other than just their last three games. Temple has allowed teams to score above its average of 65 points nine times, including an 80-75 win against Delaware (8-11) on Nov. 25 and a 72-62 home loss to Canisius (13-8) on Dec. 19.

Still, Dunphy remains firm on his notion that overall his team’s defensive numbers are about where they should be.

“I think our defensive numbers have been good,” Dunphy said.  “At stretches, we were really good against Butler. They made some tough shots…Those things are going to happen. There’s not much you can do about it. But just being in the right spot, that’s what we need to do.”

What began as a typical men’s basketball season – 8-1 through nine games, including a loss to a tough non-conference opponent, Duke (17-2) – got turned on its head when the Owls lost to Canisius in mid-December, their first home loss to a non-conference opponent since January 2010.

Temple followed that performance up three days later by upsetting then No. 3 Syracuse (18-2) at Madison Square Garden, the fifth time in as many years that the Owls knocked off a Top 10 team. Less than two weeks later, however, the Owls lost consecutive regular season games, at the hands of then No. 6 Kansas (18-1) and Xavier (11-8), for the first time since February 2009.

“We’re an inconsistent group at this point,” Dunphy said. “We play pretty good in stretches and not so good in other stretches. We get out of focus at times.”

Where the inconsistency comes from, Dunphy said he doesn’t know, but accepted some of the blame.

“It has to be on me at some point,” Dunphy said. “As a coach, you internalize it. You want to be better as a coach each and every day and be as good as you can be.”

Redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall, who’s had his own share of inconsistency this season, said his team’s up-and-down play of late has started on defense.

“The game gets fun and it gets more intense when you tell yourself, ‘This guy’s not going to score on me,’ you know taking pride in your defense,” Randall said. “Stepping up and being willing to be the guy that gets the stop translates to offense and translates to having fun. When you get a stop, you can get out in transition and get an offensive position. I tell those guys that as long as we get stops and keep helping the helper we’ll be fine.”

However, Temple will most likely be without one of its best perimeter defenders when the Owls host Richmond (13-8, 3-3 A-10) tomorrow, Jan. 30, in A-10 play.

Graduate guard T.J. DiLeo suffered a high ankle sprain three minutes into the Butler game last weekend. A senior leader who often guards the opposing team’s best player, DiLeo has an “outside chance” of playing against Richmond, Dunphy said.

“Right now, he’s not going to play, but we’ll see,” Dunphy said.

Richmond is ranked one spot ahead of Temple at ninth in the A-10, a conference that is becoming increasingly relevant in discussions about the best in the country. The conference had two Top 25 teams in Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University (16-5) before last weekend, when La Salle (14-5), ranked fourth in the A-10, won at VCU.

“I thought it would be every bit of this good,” Dunphy said. “A lot of teams in our league can beat anybody in the country, and that’s been proven.”

Joey Cranney can be reached at joseph.cranney@temple.edu or on Twitter @joey_cranney.

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