The play of Dionte Christmas sometimes speaks louder than his words.
But not louder than those coming from the mouth of Massachusetts guard James Life.
“He was just saying, ‘You score a lot of points but you don’t win,'” Christmas said of their first-half verbal exchange.
“I told him I definitely don’t want to lose two times [to UMass]. I said, ‘I don’t care if I score two points as long as we win.'”
The sophomore guard scored more than two points, putting up 30 points in helping the Owls to a 98-89 win over the Atlantic Ten Conference-leading Minutemen.
Christmas wasn’t going at it alone, as he received double-digit scoring efforts from Dustin Salisbery (25), Mark Tyndale (15) and Semaj Inge (11) to collectively take down the Minutemen.
Though the Owls won by a three-basket margin, the game was never completely out of the Minutemen’s reach. On three occasions in the first half, UMass narrowed its deficit to eight points but couldn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
A handful of three-pointers in the second half helped them keep pace with the Owls, but the Owls shut the door with free-throw shooting.
“We need to convince ourselves that we are a good basketball team,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy.
This is the kind of win that will help the Owls do just that.
Once mired in the A-10 cellar, Temple has won four straight games to improve its record to 11-12 overall and 5-5 in the conference.
A lot of that has to do with the play of Christmas, who is wearing tape and a brace on his left, non-shooting wrist. Since suffering a laceration on his hand four games ago, the sophomore hasn’t missed a beat in the scoring department.
“In the last game, I popped one of my stitches, but I wrapped it up,” said Christmas, who leads the A-10 in scoring.
UMass’ frontcourt contributed 67 percent of their total points, with Gary Forbes’ 31 points leading the way. Forward Stephane Lasme and center Rashaun Freeman tallied 17 and 12 points, respectively.
For the Owls, freshman Ryan Brooks scored eight points off the bench, including six in a row in the second half. Dunphy said Brooks, who spelled Owls starters who were in foul trouble, came up big.
“He’s doing a great job, he really is,” Dunphy said. “He has stayed the course.”
“He’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” Tyndale said of Brooks. “He’s doing what I was doing earlier in the year.”
Now in the starting five, Tyndale has shown his value, too. With his first basket of the game, Tyndale scored his 1,000th point in a Temple uniform, making him the 43rd Owl all time to do so.
At 6-5, Salisbery is an unconventional choice to take the opening tipoff. But the senior co-captain stepped into the circle against Lasme. Salisbery did not win the tip. … With the win, Dunphy earned his first-ever victory against UMass. His Penn Quakers went 0-2 against the Minutemen, while the Owls dropped their first meeting of the season in January at Amherst.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.