It was close.
Almost too close.
In the men’s basketball team’s 68-62 victory over Rhode Island Sunday afternoon at the Liacouras Center, the Owls found themselves up by 18 points with 14:45 to go in the second half.
The Rams chipped away, cutting the lead to as little as five with 33 seconds to go, but Temple (13-9 overall, 5-3 Atlantic Ten Conference) managed to hold firm, despite some wild basketball in the final minute, and survive for the win.
Sophomore forward Lavoy Allen notched his third consecutive double-double with a career-high 23 points and 13 rebounds. Senior guard Dionte Christmas added 19 points, while sophomore forward Craig Williams came off the bench to hit on four 3-pointers in 7 attempts, good for 12 points.
Always eager to praise Allen, coach Fran Dunphy did just that after the game.
“We’ve always talked about how good of a basketball he is, and I think he’s right now imposing his will on the game more than he has in the past,” Dunphy said. “Hopefully that can continue.”
That will was imposed for 39 minutes, but that was simply because Allen was doing too well to come out of the game.
“I’d love to get Lavoy more rest, but when he plays like he did tonight, [it’s tough],” Dunphy said. “As good as his [offensive] numbers are, I think his defense was terrific. And that’s what we need from him.”
Allen understands that, especially after his last game against Rhode Island (16-8, 5-4) Jan. 28, where he fouled out, scoring just five points and bringing down only three rebounds.
“I’ve been working on it,” Allen said on his effort to be more assertive. “Calling for the ball more, rebounding more. I think I did a good job.”
While Allen performed well, as a team, the results were mixed for the Owls.
It turned the ball over 15 times and went cold in the second half, allowing the Rams to climb back into the game.
Still, the Owls missed just two free-throws in the contest, shot 47.3 percent from the field for the game, and accumulated 21 assists—the most since Jan. 17 against Massachusetts.
“In stretches we were good, in stretches we were not so good,” Dunphy said. “We did some foolish things down the stretch, and if you’re going to beat good teams, especially when you go on the road a little bit, you can’t do that. You got to really pay attention to every possession. And we were carless a couple of times late in the game today.”
Christmas was central to that, as he had four turnovers, including one at the end of the game that could have been disastrous had sophomore guard Marquis Jones hit on his free-throw attempts.
Yet, the team co-captain did add in five assists and five rebounds, so his contributions aren’t just coming from the points category.
“Especially the way our big guys are playing as of late, my shot is a little off, defense is starting to clamp up, but I try to do other things,” Christmas said. “Rebounds, assists, whatever I can do to help this team go and we win. That’s all I’m here for.”
And next on the list is showdown with arch-rival Saint Joseph’s Thursday at 7 p.m. the Palestra, a game that doesn’t really need a whole lot of hype.
The Hawks currently stand at 7-1 in conference, 1/2 game back of front-running No.9 Xavier. The Owls are in fifth place, 1/2 game back of Duquesne.
“The reality is we’ve got to play a very tough game, a challenging game on Thursday, and take that as a separate entity,” Dunphy said. “We really can’t look far ahead, so hopefully we’re getting better.”
The Owls return home Feb. 18 to battle Fordham.
Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Ed Stefanski, along with coach Tony DiLeo—the father of Owls’ freshman guard T.J. DiLeo—were in attendance, presumably scouting Christmas…Former coach John Chaney made an appearance, as well, making his presence felt before the post-game press conference, though Dunphy said “he can do whatever he wants”…Dunphy also said that he will stick with senior center Sergio Olmos as a starter, with Williams coming off the bench…The Owls’ 1969 NIT championship squad was honored at halftime…The student section, normally filled up, was less-than half full for the game.
Todd Orodenker can be reached at email@example.com.
Front page photo: John Birk, TTN.