Junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson led all scorers with a career-high 19 points to help the Owls (12-5, 2-2 Atlantic Ten Conference) defeat La Salle (13-6, 2-2 A-10) 76-70 on Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game and his team leading by three, Owls’ redshirt-senior guard Ramone Moore moved into the lane with a chance to deliver the game-clinching blow against Temple’s Atlantic Ten Conference rival La Salle.
Instead of taking the shot himself, Moore passed the ball out to junior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who hit a 15-footer that gave the Owls a two-possession lead and put the stamp on a 76-70 victory.
On most other nights Moore probably takes that shot himself, but it was evident to he and the 8,000-plus fans in attendance to watch the two Big-5 teams do battle that this was Jefferson’s game to win or lose.
Jefferson scored a career-high 19 points and had a game-high seven rebounds to lead Temple (12-5, 2-2 A-10) to its second A-10 win of the year.
“I had a lot of confidence in [Hollis-Jefferson] to take that shot,” Moore said. “He’s been working all season, preparing himself for a situation like this. If any given guy is on, that’s who were going to get the ball to.”
“I saw an opening, [Moore] passed it and I took the shot,” Hollis-Jefferson added. “Thankfully, it went in. I need to take those shots when I’m open. Now, it’s more of a part of my role.”
Hollis-Jefferson shot 7-11 from the field and hit five of his six free throws to tally the career-high point total. He added three assists and two blocks, and his seven rebounds led all players.
“I would hate to think about where we’d be without him,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “I was so happy for him with that last jumper he took that went down. He’s a great guy and a terrific player.”
On a team that’s known for Moore and senior guard Juan Fernandez, and has been led recently by the offensive surge of junior guard Khalif Wyatt, it was Hollis-Jefferson who stole the show in the second half.
“Those guys are our primary scorers,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I just find open spots, and they find me.”
In many ways, Hollis-Jefferson has been the forgotten player on Temple’s starting lineup this year. Much of the focus has been on the Owls’ trio of talented guards and the pressure placed on redshirt-freshman Anthony Lee at forward, who has been thrust into the starting position in the absence of injured redshirt-senior center Micheal Eric.
Never complaining about his lack of attention, Hollis-Jefferson has instead stayed concentrated on improving his game. He has committed himself to improving his mid-range jumper; something that both he and Dunphy have said makes him a more dynamic forward.
“He’s starting to make mid-range jump shots, which I think is critical,” Dunphy said. “He’s going to get mid-range jump shots, so he has to take them and hopefully he makes his share of them.”
“I’m just being more aggressive on the offensive end,” Hollis-Jefferson added. “When I see an opportunity, I take it.”
A silent contributor on the court, Hollis-Jefferson leads the team in field goal percentage, offensive rebounds and averages more than 10 points and six rebounds per game.
Hollis-Jefferson’s outstanding performance helped Temple pick up a crucial A-10 win against La Salle, evening up their conference record to 2-2. In a sloppy game that featured two defensive-minded teams, Hollis-Jefferson was the difference for Temple.
“It was one of those games where, if you make one more play than they, you get yourself a win,” Dunphy said.
When asked about his performance, Hollis-Jefferson responded with brief humility.
“The hard work is paying off right now,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
A classic response from a quiet guy who never overstates what he can do.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com.