VILLANOVA, Pa.—-When redshirt-senior swingman Dan Dingle converted an and-one with just less than five minutes left in the first half, it looked like Temple might give Villanova a run for the Big 5 championship.
Despite turning the ball over 12 times in the first half and shooting 25 percent from the floor in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Owls were within four points of the No. 1 ranked team in the country and the reigning national champions.
But the top-ranked team in the polls and arguably the best player in Division I had other plans. Villanova senior guard Josh Hart converted two fast break layups within the final 36 seconds of the first half to give the Wildcats a 13-point advantage heading into the break. Temple couldn’t cut the lead to single digits again after that, and the Wildcats rolled to a 78-57 win.
“The end of that first half was big, and we did it off our defense,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We couldn’t really score on them, we got a couple steals, a couple turnovers there, got easy baskets.”
“They usually go on runs like that around that time,” Dingle said. “I had an idea that was going to happen, but we were planning to avoid that.”
Temple (7-4, 3-1 Big 5) came into Tuesday night with wins against La Salle, St. Joseph’s and the University of Pennsylvania. A win against the Wildcats would have given Temple its first Big 5 championship since sharing the title with La Salle during the 2012-13 season .
The task was not an easy one. Villanova hasn’t lost a Big 5 game in four years and kept that streak alive against Temple. The Wildcats have beaten the Owls by an average of 19 points per game during that stretch. Temple lost to Villanova 83-67 last season in the Liacouras Center when Villanova was ranked No. 1.
“This is a pretty special group,” coach Fran Dunphy said of the Wildcats. “Hart and [Kris] Jenkins have done some unbelievable things as a twosome. They were really good last year. They were really good the year before. They’re going to continue to be good because I think they have a great leader at the helm [Wright]. It’s up to the rest of us to be a better basketball program as well.”
In the second half, Hart went on another run. An 11-point run by the senior guard followed by a 3-point basket by Jenkins put Villanova up by more than 20 points with 12 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game. The Wildcats grew that lead to as much as 28 points in the second half.
Temple scored eight points through the first 15:20 of the first half. Junior forward Obi Enechionyia went scored three points and had four turnovers in the first half. He finished the game 3-for-9 from the field for eight points and turned the ball over six times. It was the first time all year he didn’t score at least 12 points.
Enechionyia came into the game averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting close to 50 percent from 3-point range. He made just 2-of-7 3-point attempts on Tuesday.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the country, I really do,” Wright said. “We really wanted to try and limit his touches. We were very concerned about him. He’s the kind of guy that can go for 30. … That’s probably the best part of what we did tonight was get in the passing lanes and prevented his catches and when he did catch we were right there.”
With his team struggling, coach Fran Dunphy experimented with several lineups in the first half. At one point, freshman guards Quinton Rose and Alani Moore II were on the floor with freshman center Damion Moore.
Dingle led the Owls with 11 points in the first half. He was held scoreless in 12 minutes of action in the second half. Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. finished the game as the Owls’ leading scorer with 12 points. They were the only Owls to reach double-digit scoring totals. Hart was one of four Wildcats in double figures. Jenkins had 12, sophomore guard Jalen Brunson had 13 and redshirt-sophomore forward Eric Paschall had 12.
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.