New York – As well as Obi Enechionyia played Tuesday night, a depleted group of Miami Hurricanes did just enough to survive for one additional, final round of competition.
In the act, the Hurricanes managed to end Temple’s quest for a National Invitation Tournament crown.
Especially through the final 20 minutes of an NIT semifinal matchup at Madison Square Garden, Miami’s offense then made sure to outdo any offensive run, outplay the Owls on the defensive end and expire any hope of one final encore in Temple’s 26-win season.
Despite Enechionyia’s most productive performance to date, in which he finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, the Owls couldn’t contain the Hurricanes when it mattered and eventually fell, 60-57.
After Miami starting center Tonye Jekiri left the game at the 13-minute, 51-second mark of the first half – exiting with a bloody nose and a concussion after he was hit in the face on a Jaylen Bond putback play – the Hurricanes, who were already without starting guard Angel Rodriguez due to a lingering wrist injury, made do with a makeshift lineup.
After junior Quenton DeCosey kicked off the scoring for Temple’s second straight contest, draining a 3-pointer within the first minute, the Owls (26-11) eventually gained the lead in the half and stretched the advantage to as much as 11 points. The Hurricanes (25-12) responded later in the half with a 9-0 run, and though they trailed by five at the break, they did so with the momentum on their side.
Through a back-and-forth final 20 minutes, Sheldon McClellan’s 12 points in the second half helped lead Miami to an NIT final bid. Along with McClellan, Philadelphia native and Neumann-Goretti High School product Ja’Quan Newton, a freshman guard, chipped in nine points off the bench for the Hurricanes, while redshirt-freshman guard Deandre Burnett added eight of his own.
After trailing for much of the game’s final eight minutes, the Owls faced a three-point deficit with a final possession before the buzzer. DeCosey took Temple’s last shot – a 3-point attempt – and couldn’t get it to go, as it ricocheted off the rim as time expired.
Enechionyia paced the floor in scoring for the first time in his Temple career Tuesday night, and kept the Owls in the game throughout the latter half. The freshman forward totaled six points in 10 first-half minutes before netting 11 in the second half, and shot 7 for 7 from the free-throw line.
“Once I got going, whenever I start getting going, the confidence goes up and everything gets a little easier,” Enechionyia said. “I was trying to keep our team in the game, just doing what I could. Somebody had to step up and I tried to make that me.”
“I’m proud of the seniors, but you can always do more,” Enechionyia added. “I just want to do more next season.”
Entering the contest, Enechionyia had posted game averages of 5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 18.4 minutes per game. His scoring, rebounding and blocking numbers all eclipsed career marks.
“I thought he was terrific,” Dunphy said of Enechionyia. “For a freshman to do what he did [Tuesday], not only was he good on the offensive end, he had a number of blocks that sort of saved us. … He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga said Newton played Tuesday with a torn ligament in his right hand, which he suffered in Miami’s defeat of Richmond in the tournament quarterfinals last Tuesday.
“After the first few minutes when he was not very aggressive, for the remainder of the half and through the second half, he became very aggressive and much like the point guard we need him to be,” Larrañaga said of his freshman guard.
Temple’s shooting numbers marred its performance throughout, as the Owls combined to shoot 30 percent from the floor, and hit just 2 of 19 attempts from 3-point range.
Senior Will Cummings netted 11 points in his final game as an Owl on 3-of-15 shooting, while his senior counterpart in the backcourt, Jesse Morgan, finished with seven points in a 3-of-10 performance from the floor.
Bond injured his leg with 7:58 remaining in the game, and did not return. The junior forward finished with five points and five rebounds in 21 minutes of play … Junior forward Devontae Watson played nine minutes in the game, his lowest through the tournament … Tuesday marked Temple’s first contest at Madison Square Garden since the Owls knocked off then-No. 3 Syracuse on Dec. 22, 2012 in a four-point victory.
Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Andrew_Parent23.