The men’s basketball team overcame a poor first half and outscored Alcorn State by 15 in the second half to lead the Owls (8-1) to a 63-46 win against the Braves (2-8) Monday night in Temple’s first match-up in the Gotham Classic.
Senior guard Khalif Wyatt led all scorers with 20 points, and he became the 49th player in program history to score 1,000 points. Wyatt shot 5-for-11 (46 percent) after shooting 25 percent, 20 percent and 27 percent in his last three games, respectively.
“I haven’t been shooting the ball that well, but all you can really do to get out of a shooting slump is to keep shooting,” Wyatt said. “I didn’t make a lot of shots today. I took good shots. I got my teammates involved. We won, and that’s all that really matters.”
Wyatt’s isn’t the only one on the team who’s been struggling recently. Redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall’s scoring average has dropped in each of the past three games, when he has shot under 35 percent in each of them.
“As a basketball club, things happen,” Randall said. “We’ve had some slips, but things like that you can’t really worry about. You just have to finish strong and keep playing.”
The win marks Temple’s seventh of the season against teams without a winning record. The combined record of the Owls’ opponents is 40-50. Take away Villanova (7-4) and Duke (9-0), the lone teams Temple has played with winning records, and opponents are 24-46.
While the Owls have beaten teams with a record of .500 or below by an average of 12 points, Temple isn’t passing the eye test. The Owls are averaging more than 11 turnovers per game, and opponents are outrebounding them and outshooting them.
Monday’s win against Alcorn State was the fourth game this season when Temple failed to build a halftime lead of six or more against a team with a record of .500 or below. Against those teams, Temple is averaging a halftime lead of just under seven points.
The Owls are faring better in the second half, when they’ve outscored opponents by 47 points this year. Against the Braves Monday, Temple shot 46 percent and outscored Alcorn State by 15 in the second half after shooting 35 percent and holding a two-point lead at halftime.
Temple led by as much as 10 points in the first half, but surrendered a late 15-7 run to the Braves.
“I wish I would go back into my office and say, ‘Man, we’re really clicking,'” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I haven’t done that yet.”
Though Temple came into the game ranked No. 22 in the country in assist/turnover ratio, the Owls coughed it up 15 times to 11 assists against the Braves. Nine of those turnovers came in the first half.
When pressed to explain his team’s inconsistency, Dunphy said he didn’t have an answer.
“If I knew, I’d try to fix it. I’d say, ‘Run the No. 6 play, and that will help us,'” Dunphy said. “We just have to continue to work.”
Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee missed Monday’s game with an illness. Freshman center Devontae Watson got his first significant playing time of the season in Lee’s absence, playing four minutes in the first half. He scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and registered three blocks.
Dunphy didn’t send Watson back out until the game was well in hand for one minute in the second half. He said Watson still needs time until he starts playing consistently.
“It’s a possession by possession game,” Dunphy said. “Some things he did really well, and other things he got himself caught out of position at times.”
Temple hosts Canisius Dec. 19 for game two of the Gotham Classic, which will climax Saturday, Dec. 22, when the Owls play No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.