WASHINGTON, D.C – Junior guard Juan Fernandez and the men’s basketball team overcame a late Maryland surge on Sunday night to defeat the Terrapins, 64-61, in the BB&T Classic.
Temple played exceptionally stingy defense in the first half as it held Maryland to 21 points on 28.6 percent shooting. The defense, and the offense for that matter, struggled in the second half as coach Fran Dunphy watched a 15-point lead dwindle down to four points over the course of four minutes, 18 seconds. Maryland’s added pressure on the defensive end, along with some contentedness from the Owls, helped the Terrapins get back in the game, Fernandez said.
“Their pressure got tougher and we backed off a little bit,” Fernandez said. “We relaxed a little bit, being up 15 points. One of the things that we have to work on this year is when we’re 15 points up, we still have to come out and look at it like we’re losing.”
Sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt had three of his career-high four steals in the first half, but his lone second-half steal was arguably the most important. While holding onto a three-point lead, sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson turned the ball over with 40 seconds left. Four seconds later, Wyatt jumped a passing lane underneath Temple’s basket and finished the put-back to give Temple a five-point lead.
“I was relieved [when Wyatt completed the play],” Fernandez said. “It was great. I knew he enjoyed it. He started laughing once he went for the layup. It was just great. It was a big play.”
Junior guard Ramone Moore hit three free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win for the Owls. Moore finished the game with a team-high 16 points. Fernandez finished the game with 14 points. After averaging less than nine points per game off of 21.9 percent shooting in the Old Spice Classic, Fernandez has shot 46.4 percent from the field en route to 16 points per game.
“I think [Fernandez] got guarded really hard [in the Old Spice classic],” Dunphy said “He’s still getting guarded hard. Maryland really concentrated a lot of effort on him and he made some really tough shots. That’s what he can do, but we can’t be having him handle the whole load. We have to spread it around a little bit.”
Four players finished with double-digit points for the Owls. With the graduation of guard Ryan Brooks, the Owls will likely need to rely on a more balanced attack this year, which is something the coaching staff finds ideal.
“We need to have [balanced scoring],” Dunphy said. “I don’t think there’s any question that every coach is going to tell you the same thing. When you have balanced scoring, they can’t really figure on one guy. Our team isn’t very potent offensively, so when we spread it around, that’s really important for us.”
“We’re going to need everybody if we’re going to do big things this year,” Fernandez agreed.
The majority of Wyatt’s impact on the game, despite the fact his five points were Temple’s only bench points, came on the defensive end. Wyatt’s progress on defense has been noteworthy, Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
“Even in the first half, I think he came up with three steals,” Dunphy said. “He really helped us push the ball up the floor a few times after those steals. It really helped us. He’s a terrific basketball player and I think he’s learning how to play the defensive end, which has always been his shortcoming.”
“We’re still trying to find our best basketball,” Fernandez said. “We’re not happy about the Old Spice Classic and our job over there. We’re trying to improve and be a better team and we’re finding. Each guy is finding their role and we showed it tonight.”
The win improved the Owls to 5-2 on the year heading into Thursday’s matchup with No. 16 Georgetown. On top of that, the victory over the Terrapins could prove to be an important one come March. Maryland has shown its talent multiple times this year, especially in close losses to No. 5 Pittsburgh and No. 13 Illinois.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org