St. Joseph’s Pat Calathes said he could hear Temple coach Fran Dunphy barking out instructions over the muddled noise of more than 10,000 fans at the Liacouras Center Saturday night.
“I heard coach yelling at them from the opposite end, ‘Guard Calathes, guard Calathes,'” the Hawks senior forward said.
The message came across loud and clear for Calathes, but not for the Owls (9-9, 2-2 Atlantic Ten Conference), who left the 6-10 forward open for a game-winning three-pointer in visiting St. Joe’s 67-66 win over Temple last week.
Temple has focused on improving on the defensive end since the beginning of the season. At times, the team has shown signs of getting better.
However, Calathes’ last-second shot cast the spotlight back on the Owls’ defensive struggles again.
“We’ve been playing pretty well defensively, but we’ve just got to learn how to close out games,” Owls senior guard Mark Tyndale said.
Statistically, Temple has improved on the defensive end this season, allowing 67.8 points per game in comparison to the 74.1 points per contest that they surrendered during the 2006-2007 campaign. But a major defensive lapse at the end of Saturday’s game cost the Owls an opportunity to move up in the A-10 standings.
With a win, the Owls would have positioned themselves alongside No. 15 Xavier (17-4, 5-1) and Charlotte (13-6, 4-1) as one of the top teams in the A-10. Instead, the Owls are now locked in a two-way tie for seventh place with Massachusetts (13-6, 2-3).
“We’ve got to get better,” Dunphy said about the team’s overall progress this season. “We’re going to go to Fordham on Thursday, then back here against [George Washington] on Sunday. We have to play as good of basketball as we can. We have to be real focused for 40 minutes, and that will help us be a better basketball team.” As St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli pointed out, there were times when Temple appeared to be the better team Saturday.
The Owls held the Hawks to 28 points on 39.3 percent shooting in the first half and also controlled the glass, out-rebounding St. Joe’s, 18-11, in the first stanza.
Temple also displayed some strong individual defense against the Hawks (12-5, 4-1). During the last five minutes of the game, senior guard Mark Tyndale scored the Owls final 10 points, while making two crucial plays on the defensive end during that same stretch. Tyndale blocked sophomore guard Garrett Williamson’s breakaway dunk attempt and helped force a turnover with 20 seconds remaining.
“My job is to try and play defense and I want to be a defensive leader on this team,” Tyndale said. “Dionte’s been doing a great job leading us on offense. I just try and provide a spark on defense.”
In recent games, the Owls have received defensive contributions from freshman forward Lavoy Allen and junior center Sergio Olmos. Overall, the team is making strides on the defensive end since last season, Martelli said.
“They’re extraordinarily well-coached,” Martelli said. “Obviously, they’ve made a stronger commitment to man-to-man defense.”
For more than two decades, the Owls utilized a match-up zone under former coach John Chaney. The transition away from the match-up zone was difficult for the team last season, but several players said they are getting more comfortable with man-to-man.
“I think we’ve made a big stride from last year,” junior guard Semaj Inge said. “Every day in practice we concentrate on defense because we know our offense is going to come.”
The Owls will play Fordham (8-9, 2-3) at the Rose Hill Arena Thursday at 8 p.m. Temple will then return home for a contest against George Washington (5-10, 1-4) at the Liacouras Center Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org