With six minutes, 19 seconds left in the second half, West Virginia University senior guard Tarik Phillip fouled Owls’ freshman guard Alani Moore II. While Moore made both of his free throws at the other end of the floor, Mountaineers’ coach Bob Huggins yelled at Phillip for fouling Moore, who was a perfect 4-for-4 from the charity stripe at the time.
With the Owls leading by one point with less than a minute to play, junior forward Obi Enechionyia’s jumper from the left elbow missed the mark, but Moore got the offensive rebound with a three-second differential between the shot clock and game clock. Moore found himself at the free throw line again with 14.1 seconds left. He made both tries to put Temple up by three, forcing West Virginia to attempt a 3-pointer to tie.
Mountaineers’ senior guard Teyvon Myers’ leaning jump shot got blocked by sophomore guard Shizz Alston Jr., Enechionyia collected the rebound and made a free throw on the other end to cement an 81-77 victory Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
“We didn’t talk about fouling, we talked about switching everything and not giving them too clean of a look on a 3-point shot. …I thought we closed on it pretty quickly and then they had no option but to drive it, and that’s when I thought we got the decent tip on the block,” coach Fran Dunphy said of the final play.
The win made Temple the National Invitation Tournament Season Tip-Off champion and was its second straight win against a ranked team. West Virginia came into play ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25.
Redshirt-senior swingman Daniel Dingle earned all-tournament honors and Enechionyia earned the Most Outstanding Player Award. He had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds on Friday and blocked five shots. Enechionyia scored 16 points to go with eight rebounds in the Owls’ win against No. 25 Florida State University on Thanksgiving.
West Virginia outscored Temple 27-15 in the opening 8:29 of the second half to chip away at a 20-point halftime deficit. Temple’s hot shooting made up for its eight first-half turnovers caused by Huggins’ press. Enechionyia shot 70 percent from the field and 80 percent from 3-point range in the first half to score 18 points.
“You knew they were going to make their run,” Dunphy said. “I didn’t anticipate that we were going to have that kind of cushion throughout the second half. I just felt it wasn’t going to dissipate as quickly as it did.”
The press gave Temple trouble early in the second half. The Owls committed five turnovers in the opening 65 seconds, including a five-second violation. Dingle, who often had to inbound the ball against the press, committed eight of the team’s 19 turnovers.
“That was a tough task to be honest. …It was like I was seeing 10 guys on the court at a time,” Dingle said.
A jumper by Myers tied the game at 62 at the 9:16-mark. The Mountaineers couldn’t separate from the Owls, never leading by more than three points. West Virginia got its largest lead of the second half at the 7:34-mark when sophomore forward Esa Ahmad made a layup. Ahmad scored 19 points to lead the Mountaineers, who had four double-figure scorers.
Enechionyia didn’t score in the second half until he hit a 3-pointer with 5:25 left to give the Owls a 73-69 lead.
With Enechionyia not scoring as much, Moore had 11 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes and Dingle scored nine of his 15 points in the second half.
“In the first half I got some open shots that I was able to knock down, but in the second half, those just weren’t there. …Luckily these guys were able to knock down shots and the whole team did the same and it really didn’t matter in the end,” Enechionyia said.
The regular season title is the Owls’ first since the 1998 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden. The team’s next game is a Big 5 matchup on the road against St. Joseph’s on Wednesday.
Temple is on a three-game winning streak after shooting 52 percent from the free-throw line and 34.25 percent from the field in back-to-back losses to the University of New Hampshire and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“I hope we have grown a lot, but it’s not going to mean anything when we go to play in Philadelphia next week,” Dunphy said. “We have two games that we need to do our best against St. Joe’s and Penn and we’re going to have our hands full. But it’s’ a great couple of days for us no question.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.