Looking for offensive spark

The men’s basketball team had gone 34 years – longer than coach John Chaney’s 24-year tenure here – without turning in this kind of offensive performance. Temple must follow Saturday’s 60-34 loss at Massachusetts with

The men’s basketball team had gone 34 years – longer than coach John Chaney’s 24-year tenure here – without turning in this kind of offensive performance.

Temple must follow Saturday’s 60-34 loss at Massachusetts with strong showings this week against Xavier and No. 18 Maryland if it is to remain in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Owls tip off with Xavier tomorrow night at the Liacouras Center at 7 p.m., and will play the nationally ranked Terrapins Saturday at 2 p.m.

They had a similar run against Xavier and Maryland last season, playing both teams within a seven-day stretch.

Though closely contested through the game’s first 35 minutes, the Owls’ nationally televised contest with Maryland last year turned out to be an 80-69 blemish to their non-conference record.

Later that week, the Owls rebounded with a 69-54 road win against Xavier that bolstered their chances in the A-10.

Dustin Salisbery remembers those games, especially the tight game in College Park, Md.

“[Maryland foward Nik] Caner-Medley had a great game against us. He came out shooting,” the junior guard said after a game last week. “He was scoring a lot, but it was mostly on put-back attempts.

“They don’t have a true point guard and only have one true shooter in [junior guard] Mike Jones. So if we crash the boards against them and put some pressure on the ball, we’ll be fine.”

Caner-Medley, then a junior, scored a career-high 35 points against the Owls last season. He also set career highs with 21 field goal attempts and 14 field goals. The Owls, who trailed for much of the first half, eventually tied the game at 62 with only a few minutes to play. The Terps then went on a late run en route to winning the game.

Xavier looks primed for a bye in the A-10 tournament. At 12-2 overall and 3-0 in the A-10, the Musketeers are led by senior forward Brian Thornton’s 16.1 points and 7.6 rebounds.

If the Owls play the Musketeers and the Terrapins like they did Saturday at UMass, it could mean their season.

The Owls (9-7, 3-3 A-10) seemingly had things under control in the first half, behind by only four points through 12 minutes. Over the next eight minutes, though, the Minutemen (9-6, 4-1) poured it on.

UMass’ 31-5 run started late in the first half and extended midway through the second half. Over that time, the Owls struggled to put points on the board. They scored just five points in a 16-minute span. After trailing 17-13 early, the Owls scored 21 points in the game’s final 28 minutes.

Temple’s free throw shooting continues to plague the team. The Owls shot 5-of-16 from the line.

Xavier and Maryland pose huge threats to the Owls, whose season-long three-game winning streak was snapped Saturday at UMass.

Senior guard Mardy Collins needs impressive outings this week in the Owls’ critical two-game run. Collins solidified himself last season as one of the nation’s top guards, scoring 20 points or more in 11 games last season, including a season-high 29 points against Duquesne last Feb. 16. An all-America candidate this season, Collins has not scored more than 19 points in any game this season.

When asked if Dayton and UMass would prepare the Owls for their tough week, Collins was to the point.

“I think so.” he said last week. “… We have to go out and try to execute against Xavier and Maryland. Ultimately, that’s going to win us those games.”

NOTES

The Owls must have a strong following in Amherst, Mass. Their game with the Minutemen drew a season-high 8,127 fans at the Mullins Center. It was UMass’ largest home crowd against an opponent not named Connecticut since Feb. 17, 2001, when they played – you guessed it – Temple. … The Owls’ bench was responsible for two of their 34 points. The Minutemen got 24 points from their non-starters, paced by forward Lawrence Carrier’s 17 points.

RPI WATCH

The RPI system is a good indicator of where a college basketball team stands for its placement in the NCAA Tournament. RPI factors a team’s quality wins and losses and strength of schedule into its rankings.

According to basketball guru Ken Pomeroy’s Web site, KenPom.com, the Owls are No. 79 in the country, meaning they would be omitted from the Big Dance’s 65-team field if it was being selected this week.

The Owls need as much help as they can get, with only 12 games remaining on their schedule. Losing to either Xavier or Maryland might actually help their RPI rank, as both the 15th-ranked Musketeers and the No. 36 Terrapins are within the bracket’s parameters.

Christopher A. Vito can be reached at cvitox01@temple.edu.

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