Sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt has emerged, but the team has regressed.
In a 30-game regular season, there are bound to be stretches where the wins are hard to come by. Right now, it seems like the Owls are in one of those stretches. The men’s basketball team is 1-2 over its past three games with a 73-56 win over Penn on Jan. 19, sandwiched between brutal losses to Duquesne and Xavier.
Following the 78-66 beat down at the hands of Duke, the Owls appeared to be on the rebound with a convincing win over their Big 5 opponent Penn at the Liacouras Center. Sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt’s career-high 27 points and five steals fueled the Owls as the team’s sixth man.
“He’s really a good scorer,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “He knows how to get the ball in position to score, whether it’s a jump shot or driving it to the rim. I can’t sit here tonight and say I was surprised by how well he played because he’s that good of a basketball player.”
“Coaches were telling me to come off the bench and be aggressive,” Wyatt said. “My teammates were telling me the same thing. Coming off the bench, I wanted to shoot the ball, and today it was going in, so I just kept shooting.”
The rest of the team improved on the defensive end against the Quakers. The Owls scored 28 points off 23 Penn turnovers, and along with Wyatt’s five steals, junior forward Scootie Randall contributed four. Junior forward Lavoy Allen has had an up-and-down season thus far, but against Penn, his performance easily fits in the “up” column, scoring 10 points with six rebounds and six blocks.
“I think everybody wants [Allen] to be this crazed guy on the court, this high motor guy,” Dunphy said. “Well, he’s not. He is who he is and I’ll take him, and I would hate to see where we would be without him.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing against the Quakers, where there were five lead changes before Temple was able to take a 36-26 lead at halftime. Dunphy gave Wyatt most of the credit for the win.
“I don’t think we played as well as Penn,” Dunphy said. “I thought we did good things at certain times, but we didn’t play as well as the Penn guys played. I thought they played hard; they had a good plan. I thought they defended us well, for the most part. We got lucky with Khalif having a game like he had today.”
Hot shooting may have bailed the Owls out against Penn, but that wasn’t the case against Xavier. Despite getting a career-high 28 points and out of Randall and Wyatt following up on his performance against Penn with 19 points, the Owls lost, 88-77, to the Musketeers.
Xavier’s 88 points were the most Temple has allowed all season, as four Musketeers finished in double-digits points. The Musketeers shot 52.5 percent from the floor compared to Temple’s 43.1 percent.
Xavier junior guard Tu Holloway, the second highest scorer in the Atlantic Ten Conference, who averages 21.5 points per game, dropped 21 points on the Owls. Redshirt-sophomore guard Mark Lyons kept pace with Holloway with 19 points, redshirt-senior Jamel McLean had 16 points and junior center Kenny Frease had 11 points against a struggling Owls’ defense.
Allen, the Owls’ starting power forward and preseason all-conference selection, seemed to go missing against the Musketeers as he finished with zero points, three rebounds and four personal fouls in 13 minutes of action. The loss gives Xavier a 5-0 record in the A-10, which puts the Musketeers in a tie for first place with Duquesne and puts Temple, with a 3-2 record, in conference play. The Owls are currently in a five-way tie for fourth place.
Up next, the Owls can look to improve their A-10 record in their next two games, which feature opponents with losing records.
First up is a home matchup on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Charlotte 49ers, who are 9-10 and boast a 1-4 record in the A-10. The Owls will then travel to St. Joseph’s on Saturday to face a 5-14 Hawks squad that is tied with Fordham for last place by going winless in conference play so far. Tipoff is at 11 a.m.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at email@example.com.