The Owls started the new year with a match-up at Rutgers – one that started an eight-game losing streak, the longest of the Fran Dunphy era and the longest for the program in nearly 40 years.
January ended for the team with a home game against the same Scarlet Knights squad that started the losing streak, but this time the Owls held on, beating Rutgers 88-82.
“Over this last stretch, these guys have kept it together pretty well,” coach Fran Dunphy said. “Their frustration level has certainly been there, but it has been kept to a minimum.”
The victory is the first for Temple since a Dec. 21, 2013 win against LIU Brooklyn, and the team’s first win against an American Athletic Conference opponent.
“We needed it very badly,” Dunphy said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
The Owls were led by Will Cummings and Dalton Pepper, who both played for the entire game. Although Cummings said that he was tired after the win, he added that “being able to play the whole game and get the win for our team is a great feeling.”
The first half was back-and-forth early. Kadeem Jack opened the game by drilling a jumper, but the Owls responded with a Quenton DeCosey jump shot to tie the game at 2-2. A few minutes later, Junior Etou broke a tie with a three pointer that gave the Scarlet Knights a 7-4 lead.
The Owls didn’t let the lead get out of hand, however, and a Devontae Watson dunk followed by an Anthony Lee layup gave Temple a 12-11. Rutgers eventually brought the game even at 14-14 with a three point jumper from Jerome Seagears, but Temple answered back immediately with a DeCosey three.
Temple held onto its lead until a Cummings turnover led to Rutger’s Malick Kone making a layup that gave Rutgers a 20-19 lead. Cummings would give the Owls the lead again, however, with a three pointer that made the game 22-20. A Greg Lewis dunk then tied the game up at 22-22.
Pepper, who scored 33 points in Temple’s loss to Cincinnati last Sunday, didn’t score until there was 8:25 remaining in the first half. Pepper drilled a three later in the half to give the Owls a 29-26 lead, and Pepper’s second three of the game a few moments later gave the Owls a 31-29 lead.
Seagears responded with a three of his own, cutting the Owls lead to 32-31. Less than a minute later, Jimmy McDonnell got in on the three point action his well, as his shot from beyond the arc gave Temple a 35-31 lead.
Pepper sparked a 10-0 Owls run during the final minutes of the first, first drilling a three and then stealing the ball on back-to-back possessions leading to a layup of his own and an assist to Cummings. The run gave Temple a 50-35 lead, the largest by either team in the first half.
Despite his slow start, Pepper led the Owls with 14 points during the first half. He was followed on the team by Cummings, who tallied 11 in the first. Temple shot 65.6 percent during the first half from the field. At halftime, Temple led 50-37 – the team’s longest during the eight-game streak.
Temple opened the second half with a 9-3 run gave the team a 59-40 lead. A few minutes later, however, the Scarlet Knights went on a 22-7 run that cut the lead to four points – the Owls led 66-62 with 8:28 remaining in the game. The Scarlet Knights came even closer to eliminating the Owls’ lead, as a Jack jump shot cut Temple’s lead to three points.
A DeCosey short jumper extended the lead to five points, but a Moore three on Rutgers’ next possession made the deficit 72-69. During the final three minutes of the game, Rutgers reclaimed the lead for the first time since the first half. Moore drilled back-to-back threes to give the Scarlet Knights a 75-74 lead with 2:51 remaining.
“There’s a part of you that’s saying, ‘Not again,'” Cummings said. “That’s kind of the first thought you think in your head.”
“The reality is we made our run, and they were making their run,” Dunphy said. “The momentum of the game absolutely changed. It’s easier to play from behind like that for them. They made some easy shots. We didn’t do a good enough job defensively. I thought some of our offensively inefficiency led to some easy baskets for them.”
Cummings answered right back with two consecutive layups, as the Owls took a 78-75 lead.
Etou went one for two from the line after being fouled by Lee, cutting the lead to two. Pepper responded with a layup that gave Temple a 80-76 lead. On Rutgers’ next drive, DeCosey stole the ball from D’Von Campbell, leading to the Scarlet Knights fouling Josh Brown.
Brown made both of his free throws, as the Owls took a 82-76 lead against Rutgers. A deep three from Myles Mack cut the lead to three, after which the Scarlet Knights nearly got the ball back after DeCosey threw the ball away to Mack. However, Mack turned the ball over immediately to Brown. Rutgers was then forced to foul. Pepper went to the line and drilled both of his free throws to extend the lead to five.
The Scarlet Knights pushed the ball up the court with 25.8 seconds left, but Lee blocked a layup attempt by Mack, effectively sealing what would become an 88-82 win for the Owls.
Cummings finished the game with a team-high 21 points. Along with Cummings, three other Owls finished in double digits – Pepper (20), Lee (15) and DeCosey (15).
The Owls will next play Villanova at the Liacouras Center on Saturday at 4 p.m.
“It feels really good to get a win, the first in over a month, especially at home,” Pepper said. “It’s going to be a big game, a sold out crowd on Saturday [against Villanova].”
Like the Owls did against the Scarlet Knights, Pepper added that, this weekend, the Owls need to “throw the first punch.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.