About 30 seconds into Temple’s season, junior guard Quenton DeCosey fired a 3-point field-goal attempt from the right side of the court. The shot banked off the backboard, missing the rim entirely.
But senior guard Will Cummings found the rebound, scoring the Owls’ first points of the game on a 15-footer from the left baseline.
DeCosey’s missed shot illustrated the main theme of the night: lackluster offense.
Temple narrowly defeated American University in its season opener on Friday night at the Liacouras Center, 40-37. The Owls were less than impressive on the offensive end, shooting 22.9 percent from the field. But the Eagles weren’t much better, shooting at a 30.8 percent clip, including a 1-for-12 start from beyond the arc in the game’s opening half.
Coach Fran Dunphy said American’s defense was a major reason why his squad was never able to find a groove on offense.
“We were really stuck offensively,” Dunphy said. “Thankfully, we guarded [well] … it’s a really good zone. [American] does a really good of moving in it and they covered every passing lane imaginable … I hope we don’t see anything quite like it the rest of the year.”
The Owls were led in scoring by sophomore guards Mark Williams and Daniel Dingle, who each tallied 11 points in the win. American senior guard John Schoof led all scorers with 12 points. Williams led all players with nine rebounds, while Cummings had a game-high six assists.
Dingle said he was glad to be back on the court after tearing his ACL in a game last December and missing Temple’s remaining 21 contests last season.
“I felt good,” Dingle said. “At first, I took a shot and didn’t have my legs underneath me. But the first [shot] I made, it was good … it’s not my first time being on the court, so I felt right at home.”
A key for Temple was second-chance opportunities, as they beat American in the offensive rebounding category by a tally of 17-3.
Temple started the game on a 10-0 run as American failed to score a point in the first five and a half minutes of play. Sophomore forward Mark Williams hit two long-range jumpers in the opening minutes, with Cummings assisting on both baskets.
Along with both teams’ shooting struggles, sloppy play was also due to both teams’ failure to take care of the ball. Both teams combined for 29 turnovers in the contest, as Temple had 15, with American adding another 14.
The Owls took a 23-11 lead into the half, and never lost the lead in the game’s closing 20 minutes. American did cut the Owls’ lead to 39-37 with 14 seconds to play, but the Eagles failed to capitalize on a chance to tie the game with just under 10 seconds left.
In the game’s closing sequence, American passed the ball around the perimeter, but never found a viable option from behind the arc. This forced senior guard Pee Wee Gardener to force up a contested shot at the buzzer. The attempt clanged off the rim, and Temple had its first victory of the season.
Cummings struggled to find a groove on the offensive end , shooting 1 for 13 from the field. He played all 40 minutes in the game, the only Temple player to do so. Dingle was right behind him with 38 minutes played.
The Jacksonville, Florida native said American’s zone defense was a big reason why he had trouble finding the scoring column.
“That was the first time I’ve ever seen a zone like that in my life,” Cummings said. “I still can’t figure out what it was … I couldn’t tell you if it was a 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1 match-up zone … it just kind of threw us off-balance, and we really didn’t have the rhythm to knock down shots in it.”
Freshman forward Obi Enechionyia picked up two points and two rebounds in six minutes of play in his collegiate debut. The Springfield, Virginia native hit his first jumper of the game before missing his next two attempts from the floor.
Graduate-senior forward Jimmy McDonnell hit a 3-pointer and finished with two steals on the night, but also turned the ball over four times. Only Mark Williams finished with as many giveaways for the Owls.
Coach Dunphy was happy with the win, but said there’s work to be done for Temple’s next game, which is Monday night at 7 p.m. against Louisiana Tech.
“It’s just such a crazy game,” Dunphy said. “You’re in those games every once in a while. For us to wind up winning the game, I’m thrilled at that. Can we do better? Absolutely. Do we have to do better? Absolutely.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.