The men’s basketball team was in a rut.
The Owls closed out 2008 with a three-game slide, mustering just 58.3 points per game, so coach Fran Dunphy decided that it was time to mix things up.
Enter sophomore forward Craig Williams.
The little-used bench player earned his first career start and provided a career-high 16 points, as Temple stomped Kent State 73-58 at the Liacouras Center Monday night.
It was just a hunch, just throwing Craig in there,” Dunphy said. “He had worked pretty hard over the last couple of weeks. He has that ability where he can make shots.”
Williams opened up the Owls’ scoring with three successful jumpers, totaling eight points. The 6-foot-9-inch forward accumulated a total of eight points for his entire collegiate career prior Monday’s game.
I’ve always been working toward starting, but I didn’t know it was going to come at this point in my career,” Williams said.
Even though Williams practiced with the first stringers all week, he said he learned of his insertion into the rotation minutes before tip-off time.
A light-hearted Dunphy, however, had another opinion on the matter.
“He was the first guy out on the court at like 5:15 [p.m.] working on his jump shot,” Dunphy said. “Now you tell me he didn’t know whether he was going to start.”
The Golden Flashes rivaled the Owls’ offensive output early on and forced several turnovers, while Dunphy continued to throw out several unique lineup combinations in search of the right blend.
At the 14:22 mark of the first half, freshman guard Juan Fernandez got his first taste of college basketball. The Argentinean found the bottom of the net minutes later on a smooth three-pointer, pushing the Owls’ advantage to five.
On the night, he posted eight points, four assists and three turnovers.
“I was real nervous, actually,” Fernandez said. “[But] it was only just for the first play, then I calmed down a bit. I think the result was pretty good today.”
Fernandez admitted he had trouble sleeping the night before. He was also surprised at the atmosphere in the Liacouras Center.
We don’t have the kind of show that every basketball game has here. No cheerleaders,” Fernandez said.
Kent State managed to keep a leash on Owls’ senior guard and leading scorer Dionte Christmas until late in the first half.
Then, in what has become a recurring theme, Christmas went on a tear, netting eight straight points.
The run helped stretch a 24-23 Owls’ lead to 32-24 heading into the locker room.
The second half brought new life to sophomore forward Lavoy Allen. After a scoreless first half, Allen would end the night with seven points and ten rebounds.
Other than a few brief scoring spurts, the Golden Flashes could not trim the Owls’ lead under a touchdown. The Owls’ defense picked up its game, holding Kent State to just 32.8 percent shooting from the field.
Christmas continued to work, dazzling from beyond the arc and within the paint. He efficiently scored 26 points on 9-18 shooting.
“[Kent State was] looking for Craig [in the second half], and it kind of opened me up in the second half, which was great. If this could continue I think we’re going to have a very successful season,” Christmas said.
The Owls improve to 6-6, while Kent State drops to 7-7. On the year, the Cherry and White are 1-2 against Mid-American Conference opponents, with one final game at Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.
As for Williams? Dunphy will have a hard time sitting the big man, who worked hard all season.
Right now I’d be foolish not to start Craig Williams against Eastern Michigan,” Dunphy said. “I’m guessing everyone would say, ‘He did a real good job, let’s play him again.'”
As Atlantic 10 Conference play rears its head in the coming weeks, the Owls will have to mold their newfound pieces around an already solid core.
Everybody needs to pay attention,” Dunphy said. “And if we’re going to be any good we need everybody to be working as hard as they can.”
Anthony Stipa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.