In their first game of the new semester, the men’s basketball team moved into first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Thanks to a near-perfect second-half shooting the ball, the No. 16 Owls sit atop the conference rankings after a 77-72 win over Xavier Wednesday night at the Liacouras Center.
“Real good win for us. Very pleased with how we played. It was a very important win for us,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
The Musketeers, entered tonight’s game with a half game lead over the Owls atop the A-10 standings. Xavier has won the past three Atlantic 10 regular season titles but the Owls have won the last two tournament championships including beating the Musketeers last year in the semifinals.
“We’re playing against a Xavier team that has distinguished themselves from the rest of the league as the face of the league,” senior guard Ryan Brooks said. “This was a big win for us, a big opportunity to go out there and gain first place in the league and what we’re continuing to do over the season.”
The Owls are off to their best start since 1993-1994 opening this season with a 16-3 record. With the win Temple improves to 4-0 in the conference and now holds a half game lead.
“That team we played tonight, there’s a reason why they’re 16th in the country,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “In the second half, I thought Temple was terrific on offense and we couldn’t get the stops we needed to in order to win the game. It’s tough to win here.”
The first half was basically both teams answering the others offensive strike. The Owls shot 53 percent from the field while the Musketeers shot 45 percent. The difference was Temple hit four of their six three-point attempts and Xavier shooting 4-13 from behind the three-point line as the Owls entered halftime with a 39-34 lead.
The back-and-forth battle continued through the entire second half but it was Temple’s shooting efficiency that allowed them to keep a strangle-hold on their tight lead. The Owls only took 19 shots in the second half but made 13 of them to finish the game with a 59.2 shooting percentage which stands as their highest clip of the season.
“I think we did a good job of getting to spots where we could get shots,” Brooks said. “We thought that if we ran our offense and ran it hard we were going to get good shots. We did a great job down the stretch.”
Xavier didn’t go away and two three-pointers from sophomore guard Brad Redford cut the Temple lead to 68-65 and then 71-68 both with under a minute to play.
Temple, who has faced their share of free-throw issues this season, was 11-14 in the second half and six free throws from Brooks in the final 22 seconds secured the Owls fifth straight win and also 12 of their last 13.
“We’ve been preaching just another step along the way and this is another step along the way,” Brooks said. “We have to continue to do this and this is a big win for us.”
Brooks led four Owls who scored in double figures with 22 points and seven rebounds. He was honored before the game for becoming the 45th player in Temple history to reach the 1,000 point plateau. Brooks entered tonight’s game at 1,015 points after scoring a career-high 29 points in the Owls win over Massachusetts on Saturday.
Sophomore guard Juan Fernandez finished with a career-high seven assists to go along with 15 points. Junior forward Lavoy Allen scored 16 points with seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Senior guard Luis Guzman added 10 points and four assists in 39 minutes of action.
Xavier sophomore guard Jordan Crawford, who entered tonight’s game as the leading scorer in the A-10, scored 18 points but shot just 6-16 from the field. Sophomore guard Terrell Holloway scored 13 points with four assists. Senior forward Jason Love was a perfect 6-6 from the field scoring 16 points and seven rebounds.
“Xavier has been the best team in the league for a number of years now,” Dunphy said. “They have a terrific program and I think Chris is doing a great job running the program now. It looks like they are going to be very good for a long period time.”
Currently, Temple sits alone atop the conference standings as they get set to travel to Fordham on Saturday afternoon. The Owls, predicted to finish fifth in the conference, like being overlooked and they’re just focused on the task at hand.
“It’s more motivation for us to go out there and show them what we’re capable of doing,” Brooks said. “We’re using that as a motivation factor, the underdog, we like that role. We have to continue the way that we’ve been playing.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at email@example.com.