Starting with a five-point loss to Butler University in late November 2015, coach Fran Dunphy rolled out the same starting lineup for 10 straight games.
The continued use of senior forward Jaylen Bond, sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia, senior guards Quenton DeCosey, Devin Coleman and junior guard Josh Brown in the Owls’ starting five resulted in a 5-5 record during that stretch.
After watching his team lose by 27 points in a Jan. 2 game against Houston, Dunphy decided to switch things up against Connecticut in the team’s next contest.
Against the Huskies, he replaced Coleman and Enechionyia with freshman guard Levan Shawn Alston, Jr. and redshirt-junior guard/forward Daniel Dingle.
The Owls won the game against UConn 55-53, and for the past four contests, Dunphy has continued to mix and match the players in his starting five, leading to a 3-1 record for his team during that time period.
“Coach Dunphy is unpredictable,” said freshman center Ernest Aflakpui, who started the team’s past two games. “He does what he thinks is best for the team, and we all respect that. If your number is called, you just get ready to play.”
Aflakpui, Dingle, Alston, junior forward Mark Williams and freshman guard Trey Lowe have all received at least one start in the Owls’ past four contests after not starting any of the first 12.
In Saturday’s 67-65 double-overtime win against Cincinnati, Dunphy inserted Dingle and Aflakpui into the starting rotation with Bond, Brown and DeCosey. Aflakpui scored a career-high six points in 20 minutes of action.
“I’m just giving everybody a chance,” Dunphy said. “Like Ern, for example, nobody works harder. Nobody wants it more, so why not give him an opportunity? And that’s what happens. Everybody else we’ve kind of sprinkled in and out of the lineup, given guys a chance. You never know, maybe someone will step up and feel really comfortable.”
On the other hand, Enechionyia, who started 10 of the Owls’ first 12 games, and Coleman, who started every contest this season prior to the UConn game, have come off the bench ever since Dunphy’s continuous lineup manipulation began.
“I don’t think there was any tension,” Coleman said. “If anything, it was more reflective for the guys that got taken out of the lineup. We can look back and say ‘You know, I didn’t really do my job as well as I should have been.’ And I think that made us work a little harder, want to be better.”
Enechionyia is averaging 5.5 points per game in 19 minutes per contest after Dunphy jumbled the Owls’ rotation. He was averaging 10 PPG before the team’s win against UConn.
Coleman has embraced his role coming off the bench. The senior has scored 14 or more points in three of the team’s four games since he was removed from the starting lineup. He’s also received 30 or more minutes of playing time in three of those contests.
“He’s comfortable with it,” Dunphy said. “He never said a word about it when we decided to make the change, and now we’re probably married to it for the rest of the season.”
While the players joining them have changed, Bond, Brown and DeCosey have started all 16 of Temple’s games.
Bond said having new faces in the starting lineup from game to game hasn’t any detrimental impact on the team’s on-court chemistry because of Dunphy’s practice habits.
“In practice he switches up the lineup everyday, so we’re kind of used to playing with everybody,” Bond said. “It really doesn’t make a difference who’s out there starting, everybody is capable of playing.”
“It’s not about who starts, it’s about who finishes the game,” he added.
Four games into the process, Dunphy’s players are still unsure how the coach decides who starts the game on the floor and who comes off the bench.
“That nobody knows,” Aflakpui said. “You just have to work hard, and if your number is called you just go.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue