Temple (5-0) is off to its best start since the 1987-88 season. However, the Owls will tell you they have a lot to improve on.
The men’s basketball team was outrebounded 42-30, allowing a season high 15 offensive rebounds, but defeated Wagner 70-62 at the Liacouras Center Saturday behind a stellar three-point shooting performance.
“I thought [Wagner] outworked us,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “They played harder. They played tougher. They played better than us. We’ll take the win, but I think they deserve a lot of credit.”
“Am I happy sitting here with a win? Yeah, but we’ve got to do better,” Dunphy added. “We’ve got a long way to go. It’s a long season.”
Senior guard Khalif Wyatt led all scorers with a season-high 26 points. He shot 3-for-5 from three-point range, one of six Temple shooters contributing to the team’s 47.4 three-point percentage. The Owls outscored the Seahawks 27 to nine from beyond the arc.
“Sometimes games come down to people making big shots,” Wyatt said. “I took them today and I made a couple of them.”
Redshirt-sophomore forward Anthony Lee scored four points and grabbed one rebound in 12 minutes after getting into foul trouble. He was benched early in the game after picking up two fouls and missed most of the first half.
“It’s very important that [Lee] stays on the floor. He helps us out a lot,” redshirt-senior forward Scootie Randall said. “But I think we can run offense and switch more on defense with the guys we have out there.”
The Owls struggled to score and defend inside in Lee’s absence. The team was outscored in the paint by a margin of 18 to eight in the first half.
Temple fell behind 10-2 early but retook the lead in the first half due to a 15-3 run that started with 15 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the first half and ended at the 12-minute mark.
Lee committed picked up two fouls in 30 seconds at the beginning of the first half. He was subbed at the 17:07 mark and missed the rest of the first half.
“We’re really quick when go small,” Randall said. “We do a lot of switching on the perimeter. It gives us a boost of energy.”
But the Owls were able to hold their first-half lead with strong three-point shooting. Freshman guard Quenton Decosey, graduate forward Jake O’Brien and Wyatt all hit a pair of threes in the first half, leading the Owls to a 50 percent three-point shooting percentage.
Temple outscored Wagner 21 to three from beyond the arc in the first half. Wyatt led all first-half scorers with 13 points.
“I just was taking shots that my teammates were getting me,” Wyatt said. “They were setting good screens and getting me the ball in places where I can be effective. The ball was just going in today.”
Wagner narrowed the margin in the second half due in large part by the play of senior guard Jonathon Williams and sophomore forward Mario Moody. Williams averaged 18 points per game going into Saturday, and tied for a team-lead with 15 points.
Moody led all players with 14 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds, in 22 minutes.
But the Seahawks committed six turnovers in the second half that directly resulted in five Temple points. Wagner shot 2-for-8 from three-point range in the second half.
Though Temple is undefeated, only Kent State (5-2) has a winning record of teams the Owls have played thus far.
“I wouldn’t say we play down to competition,” Wyatt said. “The teams we play, they come and they play hard. They have scholarship guys, just like we do. They’re not going to back down. We just try to be tougher, and hopefully we come out with a win.”
“I’m hoping we’re going to be good,” Dunphy said. “I don’t know how good we are right now. We’re winning some games, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Games at Big 5 rival Villanova on Wednesday and versus No. 2 Duke on Saturday should provide a better glimpse at what this team is made of.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.