Junior forward Obi Enechionyia stopped to sign autographs for a few kids leaning over the railing near the tunnel at the Barclays Center on his way back to the locker room after the Owls’ upset win against West Virginia University Friday.
Before last week, Enechionyia hadn’t been on the court in Brooklyn, New York since the Owls’ NCAA tournament game against the University of Iowa. He went 2-for-7 from the field and scored four points in Temple’s overtime loss.
Last Friday, Enechionyia earned the National Invitation Tournament Season Tip-Off Most Outstanding Player Award for his performance in the Owls’ two wins, both against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. He was also named the NCAA.com Player of the Week.
He had eight rebounds and scored 16 points in the team’s win against then-No. 25 Florida State University on Thanksgiving and followed it up with a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds against then-No. 19 West Virginia. It was the first time the Owls beat back-to-back ranked opponents since the 2001 NCAA tournament, when Temple reached the Elite Eight.
Enechionyia also had 17 points and seven boards in the Owls’ win against Manhattan College on Nov. 20. He has averaged more than 18 points per game in the team’s three-game winning streak.
Enechionyia leads the team with 20.2 points per game, and he’s made 56.3 percent of his 3-point shots. He made 4-of-5 first-half threes against West Virginia, which entered Friday’s game averaging 26.3 forced turnovers per game.
The Mountaineers are nicknamed “Press Virginia” because of coach Bob Huggins’ constant full-court press throughout games. Enechionyia’s corner threes helped Temple beat the press and get a 20-point halftime lead.
Huggins’ defense limited Enechionyia’s scoring opportunities after he scored 18 first-half points. He didn’t make his first shot in the second half until the 5:25-mark.
“The game was so crazed in that second half,” said coach Fran Dunphy. “They don’t let you run any kind of offense so you’re not saying to yourself, ‘OK, let’s put Obi here. We’ll get the stagnant screen for him and he can come off and get a look.’ That wasn’t the way the game was starting to unfold.”
Teams have keyed on Enechionyia throughout the season. After the game against the University of New Hampshire on Nov. 14, Wildcats’ coach Bill Herrion said Enechionyia was a tough matchup because “he’s so skilled” as a 6-foot-10 forward.
The Owls shot 30.3 percent against New Hampshire, but Enechionyia scored 20 points on 8-of-17 attempts from the field.
In the game against Florida State on Thanksgiving, the Seminoles held Enechionyia to 2-for-8 from the field in the first half. Enechionyia played the entire second half and only took five shots, but made all of them to score 11 points.
“We tried to play good defense on him, but because we did a very good job he was extremely patient,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said of Enechionyia. “I thought that he played like a very mature senior should. He didn’t force anything. He moved the ball. He accepted what the defense gave him. When he had his opportunity, he took it.”
When Enechionyia isn’t scoring, he’s still making an impact on the game. He’s increased his rebounding average from 3.8 last year to nine, which leads the team.
Enechionyia is also becoming a rim protector, Dunphy said. He leads the team with 18 blocks. He had five of his six blocks against Florida State in the second half as the Owls made their comeback from an 18-point deficit. He had five blocks on Friday.
“I think he’s really stepped his game up tremendously, to get 12 rebounds, he had five blocks,” Dunphy said. “He was there for us.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.