Temple defeated Penn 78-73 in the season opener at the Palestra on Saturday night, as coach Fran Dunphy earned his seventh straight win over his former team.
The Owls led by as many as 15 points, but they later blew their lead as the Quakers gained momentum during the final minutes of play.
“I thought we did a really good job for a large part of the game,” Dunphy said. “Down the stretch, obviously, we were settling for threes – although I liked a lot of the looks that we got. We needed one of those to stem the tide and it didn’t seem like we were able to get it.”
Junior guard Will Cummings, junior forward Anthony Lee, sophomore forward Quenton DeCosey, senior guard Dalton Pepper and freshman forward Mark Williams were the starting five for Temple. Sophomore Daniel Dingle was listed as a starter, but Williams took the spot as Dingle was dealing with a foot sprain from the day prior.
The Owls got off to a slow start, missing their first five shots as the Quakers jumped out to an early 5-0 lead. The momentum shifted quickly, however, starting with a Pepper three pointer that gave Temple its first points of the season.
After a missed layup by Lee, Williams grabbed the rebound for a slam dunk that gave the Owls a lead they would hold for most of the game. The dunk was part of a 13-0 Temple run as the team jumped out to a 17-9 lead with 14:33 remaining in the first half.
“I think the team gelled pretty well,” Cummings said. “We did a lot of good things sometimes, and we did a lot of bad things sometimes. That’s going to be a work in progress. It’s a new bunch of guys and we’re building pieces as we go and working hard in practice. Over time we’re going to grow as a unit.”
Pepper, who averaged 2.9 points per game last season, led the team in scoring during the first half with 10 points through 13 minutes of action. Pepper said he felt more confident on the court tonight than during last season.
“Coming out and making that first shot felt good,” Pepper said.
“Nobody is rooting for Dalton Pepper more than our coaching staff and his teammates because he’s earned this right,” Dunphy said. “We want him to be the best player that he can be.
Temple collected 31 rebounds to Penn’s 18 during the first half and would end the game with 20 offensive rebounds. Temple led Penn 42-35 at halftime.
Cummings broke out during the second half, as he scored 12 points during the final 20 minutes of play – doubling his production from the first half. He ended the game with 18 points.
But with 6:42 remaining, the Quakers went on an 8-0 run. A Tony Hicks layup cut Temple’s lead to six with less than five minutes remaining, which was followed by a Fran Dougherty layup that brought Penn within four points of Temple.
A layup by Lee ended the run, but it was followed by back-to-back threes from Hicks that tied the game at 71. An ensuing Hicks layup gave the Quakers their first lead since early in the first half, as the Owls took a timeout trailing 73-71 with 1:39 remaining.
Lee then delivered with a dunk that tied the game at 73 as Pepper was credited with the assist. With Penn looking to reclaim the lead, Lee stole the ball from Miles Cartwright as Pepper drove to the basket for an uncontested layup that gave the Owls a 75-73 lead.
A missed three pointer by Hicks forced the Quakers to foul, and it was Cummings who went to the line with a chance to finish off Penn. He made the first, but missed the second which gave the Quakers another chance to tie the game. With seven seconds left, Hicks threw up a three but it was no good, as Pepper grabbed the rebound. Pepper drilled both of his free throws, giving him a team-high 19 points for the night and sealing the victory for the Owls. Temple finished the game on a 7-0 run.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Dunphy said. “We’re learning each other. I thought Will Cummings did a great job on a couple of those plays and Anthony Lee did a good job – he made a couple really tough plays. We can’t have him get four fouls like he did today – we need him so much on the court. But I think there’s character with this group. We just kind of found a way.”
The Owls will host its first game of the season at the Liacourus Center on Monday at 7 p.m.
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.