With his team down by four with 22 seconds left on the verge of its first four-game losing streak since the 2013-14 season, New Jersey Institute of Technology coach Brian Kennedy drew up a play for senior guard Damon Lynn.
Lynn continued his hot play to start the season, finishing with a game-high 25 points. He scored the Highlanders’ first four baskets of the second half on his way to 20 second-half points. But he couldn’t score when needed most.
Lynn missed his final two 3-point attempts in the final 30 seconds of NJIT’s 68-63 loss on Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
NJIT senior guard Rob Ukawuba scored the first basket of the game but then missed his next three shots. He didn’t score again until he got a tip-in off an offensive rebound with 56 seconds left in the game to tie the score.
Sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. made a layup, then made two free throws after Lynn’s first missed 3-pointer to put Temple up by four.
Temple led by as much as nine points in the second half after a 9-2 run put the Owls up 56-47. The Highlanders then followed it up with a 9-2 run of their own, led by two 3-pointers by Lynn, to cut their deficit to two points with 3:30 left.
NJIT shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range in its three games before Saturday but shot nearly 40 percent from downtown against the Owls. Lynn made 7-of-15 3-point attempts and junior swingman Chris Jenkins made 4-for-8 3-point attempts on his way to 12 points. Senior guard Tim Coleman had 11 points.
Lynn’s 3-pointer with 15:11 left in the second half put him over the 2,000 career point mark. He made NJIT’s first four baskets of the second half to give the Highlanders a four-point lead with 11:36 left. Lynn finished with more than 20 points for the ninth time this season. He is the active NCAA leader in career points and made 3-pointers.
“I thought we did a great job on him in the first half and then we let him up for air a number of times…We could have certainly guarded him better but I have great respect for him,” coach Fran Dunphy said of Lynn. “He’s a great competitor and they have a good veteran group that is coming off winning 20 games last year so we knew we were in for a great fight today, a great challenge and it certainly was.”
Temple had an early five-point lead, but fell down 19-13 with nine minutes, nine seconds left in the first half. The Owls retook the lead with a 12-0 run from the 9:09 mark to the 6:32 mark. Temple had a stretch of three straight dunks on the run, including back-to-back alley-oops from sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr. to junior forward Obi Enechionyia. He started 0-for-3 from the field but finished the first half with five points after his two dunks and a made free throw. Enechionyia finished with eight rebounds and a team-high 13 points, including a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to give the Owls the lead with 2:38 left.
“Nothing really changed,” he said. “Shots weren’t falling. I try not to change my mindset, try not to change anything just stay confident and keep putting shots up and they just started to fall in the second half.”
All eight Owls who played in the first half got at least seven minutes on the court and scored. Sophomore center Ernest Aflakpui had two of his six points in the first half and added nine rebounds on the day. Four players scored five or more points, including redshirt-senior swingman Daniel Dingle and senior forward Mark Williams, who each had six points.
Dingle finished with 11 points and Williams finished with eight points, matching his total from the Owls’ win against Manhattan College on Nov. 20.
“Mark did some really good things,” Dunphy said. “There was one shot that I wish he hadn’t taken in the first half and another shot in the second half where he’s not a whirling dervish in the middle of the floor, he shot a left handed fall away toward the sideline throw that had very little chance of going in the basket. So what we will talk about when we watch the film, ‘Is there anybody open? Maybe that kick could be open and then we’ll get a better shot.’”
The Owls found high percentage scoring opportunities in transition. A steal by freshman guard Quinton Rose led to a jumper from the right baseline by Williams with 32 seconds left in the half. Rose had two of the Owls’ three first-half steals to help the team score nine points off turnovers. Temple also had 14 points in the paint in the half.
Temple finished the game with 13 fast break points, 18 points off turnovers and 20 points in the paint.
“If we do a good job on defense and we have good numbers, we’ll push it down the floor,” Dunphy said. “I thought Shizz and Obi connected twice on some really good plays in transition, but our defense has to improve. We were OK on defense today. …They got too many threes made. Thirteen threes is not great defense, to be honest with you.”
Despite their success inside, Temple only led by one point, 31-30, at halftime. NJIT made 6-of-15 3-point attempts in the first half. Jenkins and freshman swingman Anthony Tarke each made three 3-pointers to combine for 16 points in the first 20 minutes.
Senior guard Josh Brown didn’t play due to soreness. He had played five games in a row after missing the first six games of the season while recovering from the Achilles tendon surgery he underwent May. Brown still has the option to redshirt this season.
Temple will play its last nonconference game of the season at home against Yale University on Thursday. The Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament last season and are on a four-game winning streak.
Only one of Temple’s wins has been by more than single digits.
“Early on, these wins they’ve been tough close wins and I think it’s preparing us for when we meet Cincinnati and Yale and ECU whoever we play,” Dingle said. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be a war every time we step on the court and we would like to spread the margin but these close games are helping us grow, maturing quickly and learn how to close games no matter what team we play.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.