Progress has been slow and steady for Temple. Now, after back-to-back victories over Penn State and South Carolina this past week, the Owls are 3-4 as they approach a tough stretch of games in which six of their next eight are on the road.
Last year it took them until Jan. 22 to win consecutive games.
“These two wins were important,” senior guard David Hawkins said. “[They] gave us confidence and let us know that we are a good team and not a team destined to be the same type of team we’ve been the first part of the season the last few years. These four games really will define our season going into conference play.”
Before Atlantic Ten Conference play starts, Temple will make a trip down south to Miami (5-3) today where the Owls will face the Hurricanes for only the second time in school history. Temple lost its only game against Miami, 85-67, Dec. 29, 1961. This season’s game will close out the 2003 portion of the Owls’ schedule.
Miami is led by 6-foot-10 forward Darius Rice, who is averaging 17.4 points a game. Sophomore guard Rob Hite is the only other Hurricane scoring in double digits (13.9 ppg).
In their last two wins, the Owls have jumped out to comfortable leads in the first half and then hold on for dear life in the second. It was especially glaring against South Carolina.
With less than eight minutes to go the Owls were up 20. In the final four minutes of play the Owls were perplexed by the Gamecocks full-court press leading to six turnovers as the lead dwindled to just three.
“Our kids have a tendency to feed off of offense,” coach John Chaney said. “I like to have a team that feeds off of negative. I like to have a team that I tell them they can’t do it and they tell me they can, that’s the type of team I’ve always had.
“This group has got to learn that you got to win games when things aren’t going well and that’s the mark of a great team, when you win bad games.”
Chaney added that another mark of a great team is one that can overcome adversity; his players have yet to understand how to close out tight games.
Hawkins has taken control and is making it clear he will carry the team on his shoulders to the NCAAs. Hawkins is leading the squad with 21.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.
After Miami, the Owls head to Indiana and Dayton. It’s even more important the Owls get as many non-conference wins as possible, since their strength of schedule is not nearly as arduous as in previous years.
“Since I’ve been here we haven’t really been known to do that well before the break until we get into conference play,” Hawkins said. “I was really trying not to go down that road this year because it could make it much easier when we get to March so when it’s time to pick the teams hopefully we don’t have to win our conference to get there. With these early wins hopefully they do some good, so on our résumé we have a good win.”