Dustin Salisbery called Wednesday’s game was a “must win” situation.
Mark Tyndale said he was sick of Temple’s five-game losing streak. He added that Dionte Christmas kept reminding everyone that they needed a win badly.
That trio combined for 69 points and 20 rebounds as the Owls hung on to beat Saint Louis, 85-79, at the Liacouras Center. The victory marked their first in Atlantic Ten Conference play, improving them to 1-3.
“As of right now, we were last in our conference,” Salisbery said. “But we know it’s early in the season, so every game from here is a must win.”
“Losing, it was hurting us to our hearts,” Tyndale said. “You want to talk about losing sreaks – I couldn’t take it any more.”
During their losing streak, which featured four road losses, the Owls (7-9 overall) struggled to string two solid halves together. At Xavier and Massachusetts they led at halftime, but ultimately lost by double-digits at each game.
Wednesday was different.
The Owls saw their double-digit lead cut to four at halftime, but never gave up the lead. They committed just one second-half turnover and made 23-of-28 free throws.
“We didn’t let them go on a run,” Salisbery said. “Each team that we played in the previous games, they would always come out and go on a run. They would go on a run and we would find ourselves down, trying to dig back into the game. Today, we were up by four points and we just kept that lead.”
Christmas notched his second consecutive three-pointer with 13:37 remaining in the first half, giving the Owls a 14-11 advantage. They never relinquished the lead, though the Billikens (12-6 overall, 2-3 A-10) crept within a possession several times.
Christmas and Salisbery combined to nail treys on seven straight possessions midway through the first stanza. Each three-pointer was the Owls’ first shot of their possession.
The hot shooting did not stop there.
Over their next five possessions, the Owls hit three more treys and made all five of their foul shots. It gave them their largest lead of the night, at 39-26.
But the Billikens, who shot 70 percent in the first half, would not go away. Led by Tommie Liddell, they made their next four shots, including three from beyond the arc.
Liddell scored a game-high 28 points. His buzzer-beating trey before halftime cut the Owls’ lead to 49-45.
“I think Liddell gave them a great spark in the first half,” Tyndale said. ‘He was just hitting everything. When he hit that last shot at the buzzer, the coaches were just saying ‘Get a hand up. Contest his shots.'”
The Billikens pulled within one point on Luke Meyer’s three-pointer to start the second half, but they couldn’t get over the hump. Each time they pulled within a possession, the Owls answered.
But the Owls couldn’t close the door, either.
After building a 78-69 with 2:03 to play, pulled within three with 10 seconds remaining. However, the limited time forced the Billikens to foul and Tyndale iced the game by hitting one of his two free throws and blocking Ian Vouyoukas’s shot.
“I’m happy for the guys that they hung in there and we did not give the lead up,” coach Fran Dunphy said.
IVORY ENTERS MID-GAME
Sophomore center Anthony Ivory entered the game midway through the first half for Dion Dacons. Ivory, who has logged just 11 minutes all season, typically plays at the end of blowout victories.
He exited the game just as quickly, having committed two fouls in one minute.
“I’m trying to give him a chance,” Dunphy said. “He’s working pretty hard at it. Anthony’s a good guy. To be quite honest with you, he’s making it through each and every practice, which he wasn’t doing early in the year.
“So, we’re just trying to give him a chance and the opportunity presented itself.”
HOT SCORING = WINS
The Owls reached the 70-point mark for the 9th time this season. They are 7-2 when they reach that plateau. They are 0-7 when they fail to reach that total.
Christmas, who ranks second in the A-10 in scoring, reached 20 points for the 11th game. The Owls are 0-5 when he fails to notch that mark. They are 7-4 when he does.
ANOTHER HISTORY LESSON
For the second time this season, Temple will honor one of its best teams.
The 1986-87 Owls will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their 32-win season during Saturday’s game against Rhode Island.
Under Hall of Fame coach John Chaney, the Owls reached the Top 10 for the first time in program history and recorded a program-best in wins. Ultimately, the Owls were upset in NCAA Tournament’s second round by Louisiana State.
Joining Chaney at the game will be players Nate Blackwell, Tim Perry, Derrick Brantley, Howard Evans, Tom Katsikis, Darrin Pearsall, Ramon Rivas, Mike Vreeswyk, Robert Jones, manager Robert Jones, secretary Essie Davis and Director of Basketball Operations John DiSangro.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.